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Teens Increasingly Abusing Prescription Painkillers

Prescription Drug Abuse
Teens Increasingly Abusing Prescription Painkillers

Teens Increasingly Abusing Prescription Painkillers

In the past, parents may have worried that their teen was abusing alcohol or hard street drugs, but today’s parents need to be alert to the dangers of doctor-prescribed pharmaceuticals. And rather than imagining what sort of nefarious characters might be selling their child dangerous substances, parents need only take a look in the mirror. The problem of prescription drug abuse, particularly opioid painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin, is huge in our country and American youth have been sucked in right along with adults and seniors.

A study performed through the University of Colorado in Denver reports that abuse of prescription painkillers is 40 percent higher than when mom and dad or grandma and grandpa were kids. Marijuana is the only illegal substance that is more abused by American youth today. The study was actually a careful review of data collected through the National Survey on Drug Use and Health collected between 1985 and 2009. The results showed that of the leading causes of death in the United States, the greatest rise has been through prescription drug overdose.

The study results, which appeared in the Journal of Adolescent Health, show that abuse of prescription painkillers was responsible for:

  • 129 percent rise in visits to hospital emergency rooms (2004-2009)
  • A greater than 500 percent rise in people seeking addiction treatment because of prescription painkillers (1997-2007)
  • More than three times as many overdose fatalities (1990-2007) and prescription painkillers accounting for more than overdoses of heroin and cocaine together

Perhaps the number one reason behind the growing problem of prescription painkiller addiction among our young people is the sheer number of pills floating around. Prescriptions for drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin have more than quadrupled (from 40 million to 180 million) between 1991 and 2007. The presence of these powerful medications within the home where they are readily accessible accounts for a significant portion of the increase in abuse. Most prescription drug abusers say they got their pills from either friends or family members. Unsecured prescription painkillers in the home are an easy source of supply. This has led some experts to liken the presence of prescription drugs in the home to having a loaded weapon sitting out on the coffee table.

Another explanation for the explosion of youth addiction is the problem of parental modeling. As more and more parents are taking more and more prescription medication, the message being communicated is that drugs are a safe and reasonable way to deal with pain and discomfort. Teens that are looking for a safe escape from unpleasantness may be misled by the example of their parents. The study showed that rises in abuse among young people was consistent for male and female, whites and people of color. All sorts of parents are taking and keeping more of these drugs in the house and therefore more young people are making the mistake of misusing them.


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