Teens and Prescription Drug Abuse

While drug use among teens has diminished slightly in recent years, there has been a shift from use of illicit street drugs to the non-medical use of prescription drugs. Twice as many teens misuse prescription stimulant drugs as compared to adults over the age of 26.

Many teens get the message that smoking pot, snorting cocaine or shooting up heroine is a bad idea. They may be concerned not only with the effects and potential for addiction, but also with getting caught and going to jail for using these illegal substances. However, when they find a bottle of Vicodin in the medicine cabinet, they are much less clear on the possible dangers of “giving it a try” or selling it to friends at school to make a little (or a lot) of money.

A recent episode of the TV program “Medium” involved the teenage daughter, Ariel, taking a couple of her friend’s Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder medication to help her concentrate while taking the PSAT. After just a couple of uses, Ariel was begging her friend to get her more, just like any addict seeking a fix.

Prescription Drug Abuse Can Lead to Other Problems

A study conducted in 2006 found that teens between the ages of 12 and 17 who use stimulants such as Ritalin or products with ephedrine non-medically are more likely to have used other illicit drugs. About 70 percent of youths who used stimulants non-medically in the past year also used marijuana, compared with 12 percent of youths who did not use stimulants non-medically in the past year.

More than 71 percent of youths who use stimulants non-medically engage in delinquent behavior compared with approximately 34 percent of youths not under the influence of stimulant medications without a doctor’s supervision.

Almost 23 percent of youths who use stimulants experience a major depressive episode, compared with 8.1 percent of youths not under the influence.

Teens are also abusing other prescription drugs, including painkillers and depressants. In 2007, 2.7 percent of 8th graders, 7.2 percent of 10th graders and 9.6 percent of 12th graders had abused Vicodin. About 2 percent of 8th graders, 4 percent of 10th graders and 5 percent of 12th graders had abused OxyContin for non-medical purposes at least once in the year prior to being surveyed.

Statistics used in this article come from the 2008 NSDUH Report: “Nonmedical Stimulant Use, Other Drug Use, Delinquent Behaviors, and Depression among Adolescents,” published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies.