Some teens are abusing prescription and over-the-counter drugs at levels never seen before. These drugs include painkillers, such as drugs prescribed after surgery; depressants, such as sleeping pills or anti-anxiety drugs; and stimulants, such as drugs prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some teens are also abusing over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, such as cough/cold remedies, diet pills and pain medication.
Taking prescription drugs that are not prescribed to you - or taking any medicine in a way other than directed — is considered non-medical use or abuse and can be as dangerous as taking an illegal drug, such as cocaine or heroin. When abused, many prescription drugs and OTC medications can be as dangerous and addictive as "street" drugs.
Everyday 2,500 youth age 12 to 17 years old abuse a pain reliever for the first time.1 More teens abuse prescription drugs than any illicit drug except marijuana.1 In 2008, more than 2.1 million teens ages 12 to 17 reported abusing prescription drugs.1 Among 12- and 13-year-olds, prescription drugs are the drug of choice.2
Because these drugs are so readily available and because many teens believe they are a safe way to get high, some teens who wouldn't otherwise use “street” drugs abuse prescription drugs. Not enough parents are talking to their children about this, even though teens report that parental disapproval is a powerful way to keep them away from drugs.3
Medication Abuse is Dangerous!
There are serious health risks related to abuse of prescription drugs. A single large dose of prescription or OTC painkillers or depressants can cause breathing difficulties that can lead to death. Stimulant abuse can lead to hostility or paranoia, or the potential for heart attack or seizures. Even in small doses, depressants and painkillers can have subtle effects on motor skills, judgment, and the ability to learn.
The abuse of OTC cough and cold remedies can cause blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, coma and death. Many teens report mixing prescription drugs, OTC drugs and alcohol. Using these drugs in combination can cause respiratory failure and death. Prescription and OTC drug abuse can be addictive. Between 1995 and 2005, treatment admissions for prescription painkillers increased more than 300 percent.4
1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA]. (2009). National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2008
3. Partnership for Drug-free America, Partnership Attitude Tracking Study [PATS] 2007
4. Treatment Episode Data Set [TEDS]. (2006). Substance abuse treatment admissions by primary substance of abuse according to sex, age group, race and ethnicity, 2004. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration