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Prescription Drug Abuse Among Teen-agers

Updated on November 29, 2011

RX For Disaster

A sixteen-year-old high school student, drowned one Saturday afternoon in the family swimming pool after inhaling computer cleaner, then diving to the bottom of the pool.   A 19 year old college student, died of an overdose of Xanax, OxyContin and Vicodin. His mother, who worked on prevention programs for the National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, stated,  "It wasn't until I was called to the emergency room that I found out he was abusing prescription drugs - and it was quite a shock . . . because I had no clue he was using at all . . ." A law student, age 20, died of an overdose of OxyContin and alcohol at a college fraternity party.

This unfortunate and unnecessary loss of young life reflects the alarming upsurge in death from accidental poisoning as a result of prescription drug abuse. Between 1999 and 2004, there was a 55 percent increase in the number deaths caused by the misuse of prescription pain killers. Psychotherapeutic drugs have proven to be even more deadly, with an increase of 84 percent during the same time period.

Prescription for disaster
Prescription for disaster

Abuse of Prescription Medication is on the Rise

Despite the above figures, the battle against teen drug use does have some good news. According to a study conducted by Monitoring the Future, “Use by America’s teens has dropped more than 23 percent during the last five years.”

Unfortunately, according to the same survey, the good news is overshadowed by bad news. “. . . Abuse of medicines, both over-the-counter and prescription, is rising.” The study also revealed that Vicodin, a narcotic pain medication, is used by “nearly 1 in 10 high school seniors.” OxyContin use is listed as “nearly 1 in 20.”

Another study from the University of New Mexico puts the number of 12 – 25 year olds who “took a prescription drug for non-medical purposes during the previous year” at 6.7 million. This number is surpassed only by the use of marijuana at 12.8 million

Prescription medications
Prescription medications

Partnership For A Drug-Free America Survey

One-in-five teens (18 percent) reported abusing Vicodin:

One-in-ten teens reported abusing OxyContin.

One-in-ten teens has tried the prescription stimulants Ritalin and/or
Adderall without a prescription.

One-in-eleven teens (9 percent) have abused OTC cough medications

intentionally to get high. These products contain the active ingredient dextromethorphan.

Teen abuse of prescription and OTC medications equals or exceeds
a number of Illicit drugs, including Ectasy, cocaine/crack, methamphetamine, lSD, ketamine, heroin and GHB.

Thirty-seven percent of teens say they have close friends who have
have abused prescription painkillers such as Vicodin, OxyContin and Tylox.

Twenty-nine percent say the same about Ritalin and Adderall.

Teens who abuse a prescription drug or OTC medication are more
more often than not likely to report it.

Getting Prescription Drugs is Easier Than Buying Alcohol

Why are we seeing such a marked increase in prescription drug abuse among teens and young adults?  Where are the drugs coming from and why are they replacing more illicit drugs such as Ectasy, cocaine and methampetamin?

According to a survey taken at Columbia University by the National Center on
Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), getting access to prescription medications is easier than buying alcohol. The students surveyed said that the drugs of choice, OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin and Ritalin are most often taken from the home or from friends. Joseph Califano, the president of CASA labels parents as “passive pushers, “ referring to their ignorance of the problem as an open invitation to the medicine chest.

Kids that abuse prescription drugs think that because they are legal, they must be safe. The drugs are easy to get and offer a much lower risk than acquiring and using street drugs. These kids feel that prescription drug use is less “risky” and that if caught, the consequences will be much less severe.

The home medicine cabinet.
The home medicine cabinet.

Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Campaigns

For teens who don’t have a well stocked medicine chest readily available, or friends willing to supply prescription drugs, the next best thing is buying these prescription medications online. As of 2007, there were 581 websites offering medications like Vicodin and Valium without a prescription. In 2006 there were 342 sites. That is an increase of 84 percent in just one year.

As the problem of prescription drug abuse among teens, gains more attention,groups like, Project AWARE, The Office of National Drug Control Policy, and Partnership For A Drug Free America are striving to help spread the word, focusing on education and prevention through advertising in magazines, open letters to parents and television commercials.

The first memorable add campaign first aired in the 1980's with the "this is your brain on drugs', fried egg ad. The latest campaign aired during the Super Bowl, with a viewing audience of 90 million people.

Finding prescription medications on the internet.
Finding prescription medications on the internet.

Is it enough?

It is evident that as the public is becoming aware of this new wave of drug abuse, various agencies are actively trying to educate and raise awareness of the problem. But is it enough?

Parents have the opportunity to become the number one weapon against prescription drug abuse. In order for this to happen, education has to go beyond the teens, and into the home. Parents need to be made aware of the depth of the problem and be given sound advice for dealing with it.

One of the major roadblocks to awareness is misinformation. “One in four parents think prescription and over-the-counter drugs are safer than street drugs.” Parents surveyed, said they would sooner talk to their child about abuse of heroin or cocaine, than about prescription drug abuse. Parents need to know, that the chance of their child abusing drugs is much lower if they discuss the problem and show strong disapproval

The Partnership for a Drug Free America survey found that most teens
learn more about the dangers of prescription drug abuse from television ads, than they did from their parents

The statistics and data on teen abuse of prescription drug abuse are overwhelming. But there is a fairly easy way to help combat it and keep your children safe.

Talk to them. Monitor internet usage and purchases made online, and easiest of all, keep tabs on your easily accessible prescription medications. Throw out all those unused and left over medications in the medicine chest. They are a RX disaster, waiting to happen.


Burke, John. "Project Aware" Pharmacy Times (2007): 96+

Clabaugh, Rich. “Teen drug abuse moves to the medicine cabinet.” Christian Science Monitor 99.20 (2006): 2+

Kornblum, Janet. "Prescription drugs more accessible to teens." USA Today 11 Nov. 2008: 12B.

"National Youth Media Campaigne focuses on prescription drug abuse." Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Weekly 20.5 (2008): 1+ .

"A prescription for danger: Prescription drug abuse in teens." Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter 21.1 (2005): 9+ .

Schroeder, Ken. "Get Teens Off Drugs." Education Digest 72.4 (Dec. 2006): 75+.

"Survey: One-in-five teens abuse prescription drugs." Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter 21.6 (2005): 4+

“Youth Risk Death in Latest Drug abuse Trend” USA Today (June 2005)


Submit a Comment
  • Karen McC Moy profile image

    Karen McC Moy 

    7 years ago from Scotland

    Fantastic hub from personal experiance i have seen the damage prescribed & OTC drugs can do to you. Doctors are to quick to hand over prescribed medication these days as a parent i have educated my sons on how easily it is to get hooked not just on illegal drugs but also prescribed & OTC drugs too. I'm so glad that I came across your hub it's good to see these issues being made more aware off.

  • Puppyluv profile image

    Serena Zehlius 

    7 years ago from Hanover, PA

    Great hub! It was suggested on the one I wrote about prescription drug abuse in teens. It's definitely on the rise and I'm glad more people are talking about it. Voted up and rated useful.

  • profile image

    healthy lifestyles 

    7 years ago

    This epidemic of prescription drug abuse among teens and young adults seems to be hitting certain areas of the country harder than others. In Florida it is about out of control.

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    Parents have a very real responsibility to run their family in order that their children will not be influenced to begin the use of drugs. These suggestions are designed to help parents in this endeavor.

  • lafenty profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from California

    Good luck with your project, Meridith. I will take your survey.

  • profile image


    8 years ago


    I'm writing / compiling a booklet describing the FDA-reported adverse events for the most popular prescription drugs - written in plain English. I feel that if people are presented with the real side effects and adverse events of these drugs in a way that is easily understood they would be less likely to endanger their own lives and the lives of those they love by taking drugs just because they have seen them on TV or been prescribed them by their doctor.

    The booklet I'm working on is a compilation and organization of the top reported adverse events reported to the FDA in connection to the top 100 most prescribed and highest grossing prescription drugs.

    In order to help market this book once completed I am trying to get as many people as possible to fill out a short survey. I've put it up on my website at Those peple who fill out the survey will receive a free pre-release copy of this E-book as soon as it's done.

    I was wondering if you could mention this on blog and do the survey yourself.

    Thank you for your time.



  • Moonchild60 profile image


    9 years ago

    Excellent and necessary information Lafenty.  My son had this problem with prescription drugs.  I had pain killers for back pain in a big fat prescription bottle about 750 mg the doctor had prescribed but I refused to take them because they made me feel catatonic.  About 2-3 months later it came back again to the extent that I went to look for those pills only to find an empty bottle.  I couldn't believe it.  Then I found out he was drinking cough medicine, Nyquil, anything with alcohol in it, my husband was missing over $5,000 in wines from his wine collection, my son was buying xanax (what they call zanie bars) the list was endless.  I finally sent him to live with his dad in another state where he knew no one to "deal" with and 2 years later he is in good shape. Thank God. Parents have to be hyper-alert when it comes to their teens and alcohol and drugs.  All drugs, potential drugs, any drugs.  Thank you again for a fabulous hub!

  • lafenty profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from California

    Thank you so much for your comments. The going rate in my area is $5.00 a pill for vicodin. Then they mix it with alcohol. Very dangerous.

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    This information is very helpful to parents, teachers, principals, and guidance counselors.  Thank you.  Unfortunately, we live in a society where perscription pain killers are dispensed too readily, sometimes for conditions that people don't even need strong pain medication for.  I realize we all have different metabolisms and thresholds for pain, but I truly didn't need Percocet for my wisdom tooth extraction and only filled the RX to mollify the oral surgeon.  As a result the advice of physicians like her, too many people have at least one bottle of unnecessary pain killers collecting dust in the their medicine cabinets.  We forget the drugs are there when we don't use them, but our children, or our children's guests, certainly notice things like Percocet, Vicodin, and OxyContin each time they go searching for a bandage or some antiseptic.  I hope all parents read you article.  We should get rid of the "stuff" we don't need in our homes.  If we do need perscription medication for pain, we should keep it out of a shared bathrooms andkitchens.  Taking perscription pain killers, as you've indicated, is a big problem among high school students.  So parents should realize that selling perscription pain killers at school is also a big problem for teenagers, especially in these difficult economic times. 

  • Lgali profile image


    9 years ago

    very bad for society


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