abuse is using prescription drugs in a way that hasn't been recommended by a
doctor. It can be more dangerous than people think and it's just as illegal
as taking street drugs. A number of national studies and published reports
indicate that the intentional abuse of prescription drugs, such as pain
relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives, to get high is a growing
concern particularly among teens and young adults. Past year abuse of
prescription pain killers now ranks second—only behind marijuana—as the
Nation's most prevalent illegal drug problem.
Prevalence of Teen Prescription Drug Abuse
Three percent, or 840,000 teens ages 12 –
17, reported current abuse of prescription drugs in 2005, making this
illegal drug category the second most abused next to marijuana. (NSDUH,
In 2005, 2.1 million teens abused
prescription drugs. (NSDUH, 2006)
Teens ages 12 – 17 have the second –
highest annual rates of prescription drug abuse after young adults (18 –
25). (SAMHSA, 2006)
Prescription drugs are the most commonly
abused drug among 12 – 13 year- olds. (NSDUH, 2006)
In 2006, 16.2 million Americans age 12
and older had taken a prescription pain reliever, tranquilizer,
stimulant, or sedative for nonmedical purposes at least once in the year
prior to being surveyed. (SAMHSA, 2009)
What drives prescription drug abuse?
Surveys have shown a variety of reasons and misconceptions that drive
teens to misuse prescription drugs, beyond just looking to get high.
Many teens resort to abusing prescription drugs in search of relief for
their anxiety, stress, pain, or sleep disturbances. Teens have also
reported seeking prescription drugs to help with attention and
concentration. Many teens falsely believe that the use of prescription
medication is safer than other illegal drug use, even when taking
medication not prescribed to them.
Teens admit to abusing prescription
medicine for reasons other than getting high, including to relieve pain
or anxiety, to sleep better, to experiment, to help with concentration
or to increase alertness. (Boyd, McCabe, Cranford and Young, 2006)
When teens abuse prescription drugs, they
often characterize their use of the drugs as “responsible,” “controlled”
or “safe,” with the perception that the drugs are safer than street
drugs. (Friedman, 2006)
Four out of 10 teens agree that
prescription medicines are much safer to use than illegal drugs, even if
they are not prescribed by a doctor. (PATS, 2006)
One-third of teens (31% or 7.3 million)
believe there’s “nothing wrong” with using prescription medicines
without a prescription once in a while. (PATS, 2006)
Nearly three out of 10 teens (29% or 6.8
million) believe prescription pain relievers—even if not prescribed by a
doctor—are not addictive. (PATS, 2006)
How do teens acquire prescription drugs?
Many teens report accessing prescription drugs from friends or family.
Many times teens will take the drugs without others knowing.
Prescription drugs are also being sold on the streets.
Nearly half (47%) of teens who use
prescription drugs say they get them for free from a relative or friend.
Ten percent say they buy pain relievers from a friend or relative, and
another 10 percent say they took the drugs without asking. (NSDUH, 2006)
More than three in five (62% or 14.6
million) teens say prescription pain relievers are easy to get from
parents’ medicine cabinets; half of teens (50% or 11.9 million) say they
are easy to get through other people’s prescriptions; and more than half
(52% or 12.3 million) say prescription pain relievers are “available
everywhere.” (PATS, 2006)
The majority of teens (56% or 13.4
million) agree that prescription drugs are easier to get than illegal
drugs. (PATS, 2006)
10.2% took from a friend or relative
without asking (SAMHSA, 2006)
A crucial step toward protecting teens and preventing prescription drug
abuse is properly storing and disposing of prescription drugs.
How should prescription drugs be disposed of?
Presently, more and more pharmacies are participating in pharmaceutical
take-back programs or community solid-waste programs which allow
individuals to bring their unused medications to the pharmacy for proper
disposal. Although this would be the preferred method of disposal, there
are other safe options. The Office of National Drug Control Policy lists
the following federal guidelines.
Take unused, unneeded, or expired
prescription drugs out of their original containers and throw them in
Mix prescription drugs with an
undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter, and
put them in impermeable, non-descript containers, such as empty cans or
sealable bags; this will further ensure the drugs are not diverted.
Flush prescription drugs down the toilet
only if the label or accompanying patient information specifically
instructs doing so.
Take advantage of community
pharmaceutical take-back programs that allow the public to bring unused
drugs to a central location for proper disposal.
Teenage Abuse of Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medication
Signs of Abuse
Related to Specific Substances
Ten Tips for
Parents to Intervene with Kids Involved in Drug & Alcohol Use
Office of National Drug Control Policy. Prescription drug
abuse prevention. Retrieved on September 24, 2009 from URL:
Partnership for a Drug-Free America, The Partnership Attitude Tracking
Study (PATS). (2006) Retrieved September 24, 2009 from URL:
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 2006
NSDUH, formerly the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. Retrieved
September 24, 2009 from URL.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2006) National survey on
drug use and health (NSDUH): National Findings. Retrieved September 24,
2009 from URL: