Teen Prescription Drug Use

In CASA’s (National Center for Addiction & Substance Abuse at Columbia University) 2009 National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XIV: Teens and Parents, nearly one if five teens reported that they are able to get prescription drugs (in order to get high) in one hour, and more than one third of teens surveyed reported that they could get prescription drugs within a day.  Add to that the  2008 findings reported through the University of Michigan’s study on teen drug use showing that 9.7 % of 12 graders had used Vicodin for other than prescribed use, and 4.7% had used Oxycontin. The growing trend is alarming on many levels. While teens recognize certain types of drugs like heroin or cocaine as being dangerous, often they do not recognize the danger’s associated with prescription drugs because of their legal status.  Additionally, many report that they acquire the drugs through family and friends.  Teens report taking medications prescribed for their parents or from their friend’s parents, buying prescription medications from friends or family members or getting these drugs through the inter-net.  Teens also reported that they could get prescription drugs at school.

One of the difficulties in prevention efforts is that use of prescription pain killers has rapidly increased in the adult population. Over the last few years, treatment centers have seen a dramatic rise in admissions due to addiction to prescription drugs.  The availability of these drugs and the widespread use not only helps to make them available to teens, but promotes the false idea that they must not be that bad if doctors are prescribing them.  Parental attitudes trickle down, so that the more adults use prescribed pain killers, the more accepted they become.

Prevention efforts must include education about abuse of prescription drugs.  For teens, the possible lethal affects of mixing alcohol or marijuana with these drugs, the addiction potential and the possibility of overdose must be addressed.   For efforts to be successful however, the larger problem of prescription drug abuse among all age groups needs to be addressed.  The community at large must become better educated about the growing trend in misuse of prescription drugs.

Joanne Barron, CADC, M.A.

National Outreach Director

Insight Treatment Program