Prescription Drug Abuse and Teenagers

Health care, criminal justice, legislative and mental health practitioners across the country attempt to tackle this problem daily by instituting new national programs, raising awareness and working together to improve accountability.


There are few things more terrifying than getting a call from your teenager’s school telling you he has been caught with a bag of pills. I speak from experience. As a parent, and a justice professional, I am keenly aware of how prescription medication abuse has become a deadly problem. Health care, criminal justice, legislative and mental health practitioners across the country attempt to tackle this problem daily by instituting new national programs, raising awareness and working together to improve accountability. The facts about prescription drug abuse are scary especially for our children:

 

  • Prescription drugs are the second most abused drugs in the U.S. (Office of National Drug Control Policy [ONDCP])
  • 52 million Americans aged 12 and older reported non-medical use of any psychotherapeutic (prescription-type pain reliever, tranquilizer, stimulant or sedative)(Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMSHA], 2008)
  • 1 of 5 students in grades 9 to 12 have abused a prescription drug (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2009)
  • Each day, 2,000 teens aged 12 to 17 use a psychotherapeutic non-medically for the first time (National Institute on Drug Abuse [NIDA], 2008)
  • 1.9 million youth aged 12 to 17 abuse prescription drugs (NIDA, 2008)
  • 29% of teenagers in treatment are there for prescription drug addiction (SAMSHA, 2008)
  • Between 1999 and 2006, hospital admissions for prescription drug overdoses increased 65%
  • Poisoning has become the second leading cause of unintentional injury death surpassing automobile crashes

 

Sedated Stigma

Although made up of the same substance, prescription drug opioids, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, codeine and methadone don’t have the same stigma as street opioids, such as heroin.  James McDonough, former Director of the Florida Office of Drug Control and Secretary of the Department of Corrections explains how this affects teenagers, “Easy access makes them much more popular and easy to use,” he states. “It camouflages the stigma of going into a dark alley to shoot up. All you’re doing is going into Grandma’s medicine cabinet and taking some of her pills.” His statement highlights one of the biggest problems in teenage prescription drug abuse, where the pills are coming from.

Parents: Passive Pushers

“Kids are getting these things from their parents, grandparents and friend’s parents,” explains Sara Oren, liaison for Operation Medicine Cabinet (OMC) at the Broward County Sheriffs Office (FL). Broward County has one of the highest rates of prescription drug abuse in the nation. Because prescription drugs have a legitimate medical purpose, many adults utilize them and have them in the house. Since the mid-1990s, medical personnel began prescribing psychotherapeutics more frequently. Drug companies began advertising the benefits of these drugs to the general public increasing individual requests to medical personnel. Increased legitimate use and wide-spread advertisement reflects to teens these pills are common and safe. Although youth often give pills to each other, they aren’t generally purchased originally by a dealer like other illegal drugs. These deadly drugs come from our own homes.

Promising Programs

With the increase in prescription drug abuse, many promising programs have been instituted. One, which targets the source, is Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMP). A PDMP is a state-wide electronic database which collects designated data on substances dispensed in the state. This information is then dispensed to authorized designees, such as law enforcement. PDMPs help decrease an individual’s ability to go from doctor to doctor getting prescriptions (doctor shopping). It also helps decrease the amount of shady clinics prescribing pills for cash and non-legitimate medical reasons (pill mills). About 40 states have PDMPs currently and several others are enacting legislation to establish one.

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