Medication Abuse: Separating Fact from Fiction
|Myth||Prescription drugs are safer than illegal street drugs.|
|Fact||Studies consistently show that many teens and young people of college-age think prescription medications are a safer alternative to illicit street drugs like cocaine or heroin. After all, prescription drugs are FDA approved and many have seen their moms, dads, grandparents and other family members take these very same medications under a doctor’s care to treat a variety of illnesses. These medications require a prescription because they are powerful drugs that need to be monitored and dosed properly to avoid serious risks like overdose. Without the prescription packaging you are unlikely to know the dosage, side effects and warnings. Research shows that students who take prescription drugs for non-medical reasons are at least five times more likely to develop a drug abuse problem than those who don’t.1|
|Myth||It’s okay to take an extra or larger dose when I need it.|
|Fact||No, it’s never okay to take a larger dose. Taking more than the doctor prescribes can put people at an increased risk of heart attack, inability to breathe, seizure and possibly even death.|
|Myth||Everyone is doing it.|
|Truth||While one in five teens admits to using prescription drugs recreationally to get high or help “manage” his/her life, the vast majority (80 percent) are not abusing these drugs.2 Parents should not accept teen prescription drug abuse as normal. Avoid language that suggests a majority of teens are abusing prescription drugs and correct your teen if they think that “everybody’s doing it.”|
|Myth||My child would never do drugs.|
|Fact||Parents simply don't want to believe that their children will become involved in the use of drugs, whether the drugs are prescription or illegal. The reality is that every teenager—even the most accomplished—are vulnerable. Teens are on a road to self discovery, constantly comparing themselves to their peers and pushing the limits of their independence. They want to fit in and be well liked, and some are also balancing other goals such as getting into a good college. Since the teen brain is not yet fully developed, their judgment and ability to make sound decisions is not as good as they (or you) might think. Considering all these factors, it’s no wonder teens are prone to a variety of risk-taking behaviors. The good news is that kids who continue to learn about the risks of drugs at home are up to 50 percent less likely to use drugs than those who are not taught about the dangers.3|
|Myth||It doesn’t matter if I keep some old prescriptions in case a condition comes back.|
|Fact||There are limits on how long a medication is safe and effective. Leaving a drug in your medicine cabinet can be more of a risk than you think. More than 50% of people report getting the medications they abuse for free. That could be as easy as opening your medicine cabinet, drawer, or a cupboard.4|
|Myth||Students often get prescription medications from drug dealers on the street.|
|Truth||Most students don’t need to look any further than their friends, classmates and family to find medications. That’s because many of the most abused medications are widely prescribed for legitimate medical conditions and, therefore, readily available. As many as 70 percent of people get the drugs they abuse from a friend or relative either for free, purchased, or by stealing them.5|
|Myth||Unlike underage binge drinking and marijuana use, misusing and sharing prescription medications is legal.|
|Truth||Many teens may not realize that they are doing anything wrong if they pop a friend’s prescription pain killer to relieve a headache or take a prescribed stimulant to cram for exams all night. But what they don’t realize is using these medications without a doctor’s prescription can be harmful. Many of these medications are also recognized by the federal government as controlled substances and not to mention it is illegal. People who take a prescription for a legitimate medical reason shouldn’t share their medications with anyone, regardless of the reason. Not only do reactions to drugs differ, but a person may be already taking a drug that won’t react well with a drug prescribed to someone else. Sharing medication can mean putting a friend at risk medically and legally.|
1. McCabe, S.E. (2008). Screening for drug abuse among medical and nonmedical users of prescription drugs in a probability sample of college students. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 162(3):225-231.
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance, United States]. Surveillance Summaries, . MMWR 2010;59.
3. Partnership for a drug free america
4. Results from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH): National Findings, SAMHSA (2010).
5. Results from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH): National Findings, SAMHSA (2010).