Prescriptions for Narcotics on the Rise among Pediatricians
A recent study shows that, in the past twelve months, 20% of junior and senior high school students in the United States have abused the drugs prescribed to them by doctors. This number closely matches the rate of abuse among adult populations, causing concern among health care providers that our more innocent members of society are being drawn in to the murky world of addiction earlier than ever before.
Because high school is the time when adolescents typically learn how to handle prescription medication, this population is vulnerable for developing bad habits that could follow them throughout their lifetimes. Given that high school students interact socially with large numbers of peers, the chances that medication prescribed for one adolescent could be distributed to others for non-medical purposes also rises dramatically.
In the study, just over four thousand high school students in Detroit were offered the opportunity to take an online survey about prescription drugs; approximately 2,500 kids responded. Researchers posed questions related to pain medications, stimulants, anti-anxiety drugs, and sleep aids. For each class of drug, the kids were asked to report on how the used, misused, or abused the drug. They were also questioned on whether they shared their drugs with others and whether use of the prescription drugs had led to use of other types of addictive substances. In addition, the study included a drug abuse screening tool which is used to measure alcohol and drug dependence. Overall, the researchers found that those who abused prescription drugs were more likely to abuse other substances.
Of the 2,500 participants, almost 500 claimed to have been prescribed at least one of the four types of drugs. However, over 500 admitted to misuse of prescription drugs. This indicates that some respondents misused drugs that had not been prescribed to them personally. Approximately 250 kids said that they took prescription drugs as a way to get high or to enhance the effect of alcohol or other illicit drugs. Although pain medication was the most commonly abused drug, it was the last choice for getting high or to enhance other substances; 20 percent of prescription drug abusers used sleep aids to get high, the most popular type of drug for this purpose. Although boys were prescribed drugs less often than girls, there was little difference in the frequency of misuse among genders.
Given the alarming statistics compiled during the study, the researchers also examined potential causes for such a high level of prescription drug abuse among adolescents. One hypothesis is that pediatricians have caused the problem by increasing the number of prescriptions written for stimulants and opioids over the past two decades. Where, in the past, doctors were concerned about getting their patients hooked on drugs, doctors have shifted their mindset to a fear of failing to offer adequate relief from pain and debilitating mental disorders.
The results of the study suggest that doctors need to strike a more delicate balance between over-prescribing and under-prescribing in the teen population. One tool they can use is screening for concurrent substance use before writing a prescription. In addition, doctors should be more proactive in monitoring ongoing prescription drug use to ensure that patients are ingesting the optimal amount of medicine to treat their particular issue. By testing a patient’s blood for the level of a prescribed drug, it would be possible for a doctor to detect when the patient is taking too much or, in a situation when a teen is sharing drugs with others, too little.