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Prescription drug misuse not uncommon among teens

Tuesday April 23, 2013
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One in four teens has misused or abused a prescription drug at least once, according to a survey. The proportion has increased by 33% over the past five years.

The survey of 3,884 teens in grades 9 through 12 and 817 parents also found noteworthy data on teen misuse or abuse of prescription stimulants. One in eight teens (13%) reported at least once having taken the stimulants Ritalin or Adderall when it was not prescribed for them.

Contributing to this sustained trend in teen medicine abuse are the lax attitudes and beliefs of parents and caregivers, according to results of the Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, released April 23 by The Partnership at DrugFree.org and MetLife Foundation.

In fact, nearly a third of parents said they believe Rx stimulants such as Ritalin or Adderall, normally prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, can improve a teen's academic performance, even if the teen does not have ADHD.

Parents are not effectively communicating the dangers of Rx medicine misuse and abuse to their kids, nor are they safeguarding their medications at home and disposing of unused medications properly, the researchers said.

Of the teens surveyed, 24% reported having misused or abused a prescription drug at least once in their lifetime (up from 18% in 2008). The percentage translates to about 5 million teens and is a 33% increase over a five-year period. Of respondents who said they abused Rx medications, 20% had done so before age 14.

More than a quarter of teens (27%) mistakenly believe that "misusing and abusing prescription drugs to get high is safer than using street drugs," and 33% said they believe "it's okay to use prescription drugs that were not prescribed to them to deal with an injury, illness or physical pain."

Rx stimulants are a key area of concern, in particular misuse and abuse of Ritalin and Adderall. One in eight teens (about 2.7 million) reported having misused or abused Ritalin or Adderall at least once. In addition, 9% of teens (about 1.9 million) reported having misused or abused Ritalin or Adderall in the past year (up from 6% in 2008), and 6% of teens (1.3 million) reported such abuse in the past month (up from 4% in 2008). One in four teens (26%) said prescription drugs could be used as a study aid.

Abuse of prescription pain medicine remains at unacceptably high levels among teens, according to the researchers, but the new data show it may be flattening. Teen abuse of prescription pain relievers such as Vicodin and OxyContin has remained stable since 2011, with 16% reporting abuse or misuse of an Rx pain reliever at least once in their lifetime. One in 10 teens admitted to abusing or misusing an Rx painkiller in the past year.

Parent permissiveness and lax attitudes toward abuse and misuse of Rx medicines, coupled with teens' ease of access to prescription medicines in the home, are key factors linked to teen medicine misuse and abuse, according to the survey results. The availability of prescription drugs makes them that much easier to abuse, according to the researchers.

The survey findings show teens are more likely to abuse Rx medicines if they think their parents "don't care as much if they get caught using prescription drugs, without a doctor's prescription, as they do if they get caught using illegal drugs."

Almost a third of parents (29%) said they believe ADHD medication can improve a child's academic or testing performance, even if the teen does not have ADHD. One in six parents (16%) said using prescription drugs to get high is safer than using street drugs.

More than half of teens (56%) indicated it's easy to get prescription drugs from their parent's medicine cabinet, and 49% of parents said anyone can access their medicine cabinet.

Read a PDF of key findings from the report: www.drugfree.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/PATS-2012-KEY-FINDINGS.pdf.

Read the full report: www.drugfree.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/PATS-2012-FULL-REPORT2.pdf.

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