Prescription Drug Abuse Poses a Big Problem for Teens

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In the field of child psychiatry, doctors see lots of kids who have emotional and behavioral challenges that are difficult to trace to a specific source. But some of the common issues child psychiatrists deal with do have a known and preventable cause – prescription drug abuse.

What Are Teens Using These Days?

You probably know that alcohol and marijuana are the two most commonly used mind-altering substance for high school seniors. But you might not realize that prescription and over the counter medications come in third on the list. That’s based on the 2012 data recently released by the University of Michigan in the ongoing “Monitoring the Future” study. Only 2.7 to 3.8 percent of teens report using cocaine, ecstasy or inhalants in the past 12 months. In contrast, about 7.5 percent used Vicodin or Adderral that was prescribed to someone else. Four to five percent report abusing sedatives, tranquilizers and Oxycontin. About the same percentage of teens are drinking cough medicine to get high. All of these substances can be very harmful, but one class of prescription drugs stands out.

Painkillers Are Particularly Deadly

Prescription opioids kill more teens/young adults each year than cocaine and heroin combined. They are especially dangerous when combined with alcohol. Teens who use opioids with alcohol are likely to experience blackouts and can even die from respiratory suppression (when they pass out and stop breathing).

These medications also put teens at risk for using street drugs. Opioids such as Vicodin and Oxycontin in particular are considered gateway drugs leading to heroin use. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Nearly half of young people who inject heroin surveyed in three recent studies reported abusing prescription opioids before starting to use heroin. Some individuals reported taking up heroin because it is cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription opioids.”

Where Are the Drugs Coming From?

In our next blog post, we’ll look at the supply side aspect of this problem. It might surprise you to learn that only one out of three teens is actually buying prescription drugs from a drug dealer. Most of the time, the source is a lot closer to home.