Prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse is the fastest-growing drug problem in the U.S.

“In South Orange County, the three most common drugs teens are experimenting with for recreational purposes are oxycodone and hydrocodone (narcotic pain killers) and methadone, a drug used to help heroin addicts kick their addiction,” says Dr. Jacqueline Winkelmann. “A percentage of kids are being prescribed narcotics for their own injuries, but many find them in the medicine cabinets of friends, family members and even in their own homes,” she says. “They have “pharming” parties, where everyone brings their pills, put them in a bucket and take handfuls. It’s pretty scary how creative these kids are.”


Talking to your child early about this dangerous and potentially deadly problem is critical, says Dr. Winklemann. “I think middle school is certainly the time to have the talk,” she says. If you need help, there are resources available. “The documentaries, ‘Overtaken’ and ‘Behind the Orange Curtain’ are very good. Both address this issue specifically for our area.


  • Parents should take precautions when it comes to having prescription drugs in the home, says Dr. Winkelmann. Some tips:
  • Make sure parents are in charge of dispensing medication
  • Set clear rules about teens taking the right amount at the right time
  • Take care to understand the purposes and side effects, using the medications as a last resort, especially for pain control
  • Keep medications in a secure location


It’s important to dispose of prescription drugs properly and that means NOT flushing them down the toilet, says Dr. Winkelmann. “Crush them, mix with coffee grounds or cat litter, put them in an empty can or bag and throw them in the trash,” she says.


Created by CHOC at Mission Hospital nurses, Karen Caiozzo, Dottie Tagan and Chris Venable and championed by Dr. Jacqueline Winkelmann, the physician-to-physician prescription drug education program informs the staff, suggests doctors consider decreasing pill  counts to only what’s absolutely necessary and ensures that parents and teens know about the hazards of having prescription drugs in the home.


  • The peak age for prescription drug experimentation: 12 to 13 Years Old
  • The number of pediatric patients admitted to CHOC at Mission Hospital for overdoses (5/2009-5/2010): 61
  • Percentage of teens who have said they have taken drugs without a prescription: 20 %

Meet Dr. Winkelmann - Expert in Pediatrics

Dr. Winkelmann is currently Chief of Staff Elect at CHOC at Mission Hospital. She attended the University of Illinois College of Medicine and completed her residency training at Hope Children’s Hospital in Chicago, where she held the position of Pediatric Chief Resident.

Dr. Winkelmann’s philosophy of care: “I really truly believe that taking care of children is a partnership between parents, nurses, doctors and the patients themselves.”

University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine

General Pediatrics

Dr. Winkelmann

What Parents Must Know About Prescription, OTC Drug Abuse

The source of our country’s fastest-growing drug problem may be as close as the home medicine cabinet. More people now die from prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medication abuse than from cocaine, heroin and ecstasy combined.

And that includes teens and young adults who would never dream of using illegal drugs. One reason is the easy availability of these medications. In fact most of them are free and accessible from the medicine cabinets of friends, relatives – or even in their own home.

Prescription drug containers with pills

How to dispose of unused drugs.

drug disposal method

Is your medicine cabinet filled with expired drugs or medications you no longer use? How should you dispose of them? Most drugs can be thrown in the household trash, but consumers should take certain precautions before tossing them out. A few drugs should be flushed down the toilet. And a growing number of community based “take-back” programs offer another safe disposal alternative. How do you know which choice is right for you? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has created a guide for the proper disposal of the drugs and medications that might be in your home.

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