What are Passive Pushers?

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  • Written By: Beth Fontaine
  • Edited By: Lucy Oppenheimer
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2019
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A parent of a teen leaves for a business trip. The pizza money and emergency numbers are on the table, and the liquor cabinet is locked. But unless Mom or Dad secures the medicine cabinet, too, he or she may become a "passive pusher."

More than one-third of teenagers get their drugs at home, from the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, according to the National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA). Passive pushers are parents who let this happen. They are enabling parents who passively allow their teens to abuse prescription medications in the convenience of their own home or school.

It's generally said to be easier for a child to access prescription medications than a can of beer. Of the more than 1,000 teenagers surveyed by CASA, 19 percent said prescription medications were the easiest controlled substance to access. These include the painkillers OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet; Ritalin, prescribed for Attention Deficit Disorder, fatigue and narcolepsy; and Xanax, prescribed for anxiety.

While teens abuse pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and depressants, over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medications are also drugs that can turn parents into passive pushers. The active ingredient, dextromethorphan (DXM), is a cough suppressant that causes the sensation of getting high when taken in large and dangerous quantities.


Not only are prescription and OTC medications free or inexpensive for teenagers, prescription drugs are more prevalent; more health problems exist that call for the use of these drugs, more prescriptions are being written by doctors and the online pharmaceutical industry makes the drugs easier than ever to access. In turn, parents can easily and unwittingly become passive pushers.

Some teenagers think prescription medications and OTC cough and cold medicines are safer than traditional street drugs. However, the amount of these medications that teens use to get high is dangerously close to an amount that could cause an overdose. In addition, prescription drug use can lead to the disturbed brain growth of these teens, as their brains are still developing.

Besides locking up the at-risk medications, experts say that is imperative for parents to know where their kids are at night so as not to become passive pushers. While 50 percent of parents surveyed by CASA assumed their children were at home nightly, this was only true in 14 percent of the cases. Some experts recommend planning family dinners at least five times a week.

Family awareness and quality time are effective tools to avoid becoming passive pushers, but it's also imperative to talk to children about drug use at school. Even if one’s prescription cabinet is locked, this may not be the case for other parents. Finally, experts recommend leading by example.


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