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Teens & Prescription Drugs

Dangers of Teens Becoming Addicted to Prescription Drugs

The fastest growing drug problem for teenagers in the United States is not what you think. It is not marijuana, or cocaine, or heroin. It is not even alcohol or tobacco. It is prescription drugs, as recent studies show that 1 out of every 4 teens has misused or abused a prescription drug on at least one occasion. Prescription drugs are the most commonly used drug among 12-13 year olds. These rates are alarming because prescription drug misuse can be as dangerous as the use of illegal narcotics. In fact, prescription drugs account for more than 1 out of every 2 drug overdose deaths in the United States each year. Many teens and even adults mistakenly believe that prescription drugs are safer than street drugs. However, this is simply not true. Prescription drug misuse can lead to addiction and overdose just like illegal drugs.

What Is Prescription Drug Misuse?

Prescription drug misuse can encompass four different scenarios:

  1. Taking a medication prescribed to someone else.
  2. Taking a medication in a way other than prescribed.
  3. Taking a prescription medication to get high.
  4. Mixing a prescription medication with alcohol or other drugs.

Studies show that teens misuse prescription drugs to get high, to relieve pain, and to help them study, among other reasons. The most commonly misused prescription drugs are opioids which are used to relieve pain, depressants which are used to relieve anxiety or to help a person sleep, and stimulants which are used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These prescription medications often produce similar effects as illegal drugs. For example, opioids mimic heroin inside the body, prescription depressants act much the same as the club drug rohypnol, and prescription stimulants act similarly to cocaine.

Prescription drugs are regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and are usually only intended for a particular audience or to treat a particular medical condition. Many prescription drugs have side effects, some of which can be serious. Prescription drugs may also have dangerous interactions with other medications. Doctors take all of these factors and others into consideration when prescribing a medication. When a teen takes a drug not prescribed to him, takes a greater dosage of a drug than prescribed, or mixes it with alcohol or other drugs, he or she may suffer an adverse reaction or serious side effects such as seizures, coma, or, in some instances, death. Prescription drug abuse can be particularly harmful to the developing minds and bodies of teens, and teens who abuse prescription medications are more likely to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and use marijuana, cocaine, and other illegal drugs. Drug use at an early age makes that person more likely to become addicted to illegal substances in the future.

Preventing Prescription Drug Abuse for Teens

Certain steps can be taken to prevent prescription drug abuse before it begins. Here are a few:

  1. Lock up prescription medications at home. Nearly 66% of teens who use prescription drugs report obtaining them through friends or family, according to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Many teens have easy access through their parents’ medicine cabinets at home.
  2. Talk to children about the risks of prescription drugs and medications. Be honest about their addictive nature and the extent of harm that can be caused.
  3. Throw away any old or unused prescription pills, thereby preventing teens from accessing them at a later date.
  4. When children are prescribed a medication, ensuring they follow all instructions on the label.
  5. Pharmacists can take an active role in monitoring the drugs prescribed by doctors and checking prescription drug registries, which can reduce drug abuse.

Educating Teenagers About Prescription Drug Misuse

Education and awareness are key, and parents, guardians, and other caregivers should be talking to their kids about the dangers of prescription drug misuse and abuse. A recent study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) showed that 10% of the parents surveyed had not spoken to their teen about substance use within the past year, likely because 20% of parents do not believe that talking to their children will have any preventative effect on their use of prescription drugs or other substances. However, studies have shown that children whose parents taught them the dangers of prescription drug abuse were up to 42% less likely to use those substances than children whose parents had never talked to them about prescription drug use. Raising awareness of the risks associated with prescription drug abuse should help to reduce the high rates of misuse among teens.