Prescription medication use by young people is not a character flaw

By Stephanie Youssef

Last summer, I discovered that I have high cholesterol — it’s a genetic issue that comes from my dad’s side of the family. 

Since discovering this, I have made significant changes to my eating and exercise habits, but, in addition, I was prescribed a medication to lower cholesterol levels that I will have to take for the rest of my life. 

Nowadays, there are many stigmas surrounding prescription medications and a certain level of shame that comes with having to take them. This is especially true for young people, who are assumed to be healthy and resilient. I have lost count of how many times I have heard, “Oh, I’m so sorry” or “Oh, but you’re so young,” or have been given a pitiful look after telling someone that I take daily medication.

It’s not the fact that my medications come as pills or that I have to take them every day that people find so shocking. I could be taking a general multivitamin pill regularly and nobody would think twice about it. 

It’s the fact that I am 19 years old and my pills come from a pharmacy in a little orange bottle. 

This is not to say that I am trying to trivialize prescription medications. Certain treatments come with harsh side effects that severely impair one’s quality of life and should not be taken lightly by the user. 

However, what I am referring to is the misconception that the need for young people to take medications is a choice or a sign of weakness as opposed to a biological problem.

Most of these stigmas stem from the growing problem of prescription drug abuse by young people and the concerns over growing addiction trends and illegal drug markets. The potential for becoming addicted to a medication when used long-term or the use of drugs by individuals without a written prescription are issues that constantly plague the health industry. 

The issue of drug abuse is especially true concerning the sharing and selling of psycho-stimulant drugs, like Adderall, on college campuses and the abuse of pain and sleep medications that can be gateways to more serious substances. Adderall, itself, is sometimes seen as unnecessary or harmless because of how it’s talked about, but many young people need it for treating chronic conditions such as ADHD. 

However, drug abuse is not always the case with prescriptions. In fact, most of the time, it’s not.

Unfortunately, the bad reputation given to prescription medications among young people because of abuse still affects those who actually have to take them to treat medical issues.

Doctors and paramedics make treatment decisions based on pertinent medical history; if I am ever in need of emergency medical services and paramedics ask my friends if I am on any medications, their answer could influence the medical care I receive. Unfortunately, I, myself, have been conditioned into hiding all of my prescription jars in a drawer whenever my friends come over to avoid being given looks of disapproval or be told for some reason that I am “too young” to be needing medication. 

Having to take a prescription medication is not a character flaw. 

If it is possible for someone like me, under the age of 65, to have high cholesterol, then I should not be seen as “too young” to take the steps necessary to treat the biological condition. 

At the same time, the fact that I take pills out of a little orange bottle doesn’t necessarily mean that my quality of life is severely damaged — or that I can’t study as well as others can for an exam, or that I can’t play sports as well as others can, or that I can’t go out and have fun. 

Despite my ability to live a regular life, with the perceptions people have about prescriptions, I am still somehow looked at like glass or like some charity case. A little orange bottle with my name on it doesn’t indicate I am about to shatter. 

I know some students with asthma who do not carry their inhalers because they would rather risk the onset of an asthma attack than let others know they are taking medicine. There is no reason to look at a student taking medicine like they have some marked functional impairment. By no means should the negative perceptions about prescriptions prevent someone in need of medications from taking them.

The solution to this issue begins with people realizing the judgments they may have passed on students carrying around little orange bottles, and being conscious of not continuing to carry those misconceptions. Get educated on the prevalence of young people taking medications for justifiable chronic conditions. 

Understand that abuse and addiction don’t always follow young people with prescriptions.

Also, to students like me with their names on the prescription bottle: Don’t let the fear of stigma prevent you from taking care of your health.

Stephanie is a sophomore in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected]