About one in four American teenagers has misused or abused a prescription drug at least once in their lifetime – a 33% increase since 2008 — according to a new survey by the The Partnership at Drugfree.org.
The annual survey also found that teenage abuse of opioid painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin has leveled off but remains stubbornly high. Over 2.1 million teens admitted abusing or misusing painkillers in the last year.
“Parents fear drugs like cocaine or heroin and want to protect their kids. But the truth is that when misused and abused, medicines – especially stimulants and opioids – can be every bit as dangerous and harmful as those illicit street drugs,” said Steve Pasierb, President and CEO of The Partnership at Drugfree.org.
“Medicine abuse is one of the most significant and preventable adolescent health problems facing our families today.”
Many of the teens surveyed think prescription drugs are safer than illegal street drugs and receive little guidance from their parents about the dangers of abusing prescription medicines.
“It is a bigger problem than many parents know or really understand,” the report says. “Parent permissiveness and lax attitudes toward misuse and abuse of prescription medicines, coupled with teens’ ease of access to prescription medicines in the home are linked to teen medicine misuse and abuse.”
The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study also uncovered a significant increase in the abuse of stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall, which are normally prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). About one in eight teens (13%) said they have taken Ritalin or Adderall when it was not prescribed for them.
Adding to that troubling trend is that nearly one-third of parents actually believe that stimulants used to treat ADHD can improve a teen’s academic performance even if the teen does not have ADHD.
About one in four teens (26%) believe that prescription drugs can be used as a study aid.
“We need to make sure that children and adolescents receive a thorough assessment before being placed on stimulant medications, and that if medication is prescribed to a child, it should only be as one component of a comprehensive ADHD management plan,” said Alain Joffe, MD, director of the Student Health and Wellness Center at Johns Hopkins University and former chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Substance Abuse.
“We don’t really know what long-term effects these ADHD medications will have on the still-developing brains of adolescents who do not have ADHD. We do know they can have significant side effects, which is why they are limited to use with a prescription.”
Other key findings in the study:
· More than a quarter of teens (27%) believe that prescription drugs are safer than street drugs.
· 16% of parents believe that using prescription drugs to get high is safer than using street drugs.
· About 80% of teens say they have discussed marijuana and alcohol with their parents, but only 16% have talked about painkillers with their parents.
· More than half of teens (56%) say it’s easy to get prescription drugs from their parent’s medicine cabinet.
· About half of parents (49%) say anyone can access their medicine cabinet.
· 20% of parents report that they have given their teen a prescription drug that was not prescribed for them.
“Parental apathy on this issue is contributing to the problem,” said Pasierb.
One way parents, grandparents and other caretakers can take immediate action is by participating in the National Prescription Drug Take-BackDay, taking place this Saturday, April 27, 2013.
Collection sites will be set up around the country, open for medicine drop-off between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Those interested in disposing of their medicine at a take-back location can visit The Medicine Abuse Project website to find the nearest site to safely drop off their unused, unwanted or expired prescription medicines. In five previous Take-Back days, over 2 million pounds of prescription medicines were safely dropped off and removed from circulation.
The 24th annual Partnership Attitude Tracking Study of over 3,800 teens and over 800 parents was conducted for The Partnership at Drugfree.org and the MetLife Foundation by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications.
A complete copy of the report can be found here.