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Prescription Drug Abuse Among Teen-agers
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.
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
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.
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.
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)
- Drug Abuse and Substance Abuse Information | Partnership For a Drugfree America 2 - The Partnership
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- Parents. The Anti-Drug.
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