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Abuse of Prescription Still High Among Teenagers
The abuse of prescription and over the counter medications is the most troubling trend on today’s drug landscape, says the Partnership for a Drug Free America. And more treatment programs need be made available for victims of prescription drug addiction and abuse across the country.
Stephen J. Pasierb, president of the Partnership, recently told a Senate subcommittee that the real extent of the prescription drug addiction problem may have been underestimated until the widely publicized death recently due to prescription drug addiction and abuse of popular Hollywood actor Heath Ledger.
“Teens and parents alike underestimate the risk of prescription drugs,” Pasierb said. "Grandma uses them or something like that, and that comes with a veil of safety.”
Recognizing just how widespread the problem is, leaders need to devote the necessary resources to prevention, education — and treatment — programs to adequately address prescription drug addiction and abuse, Pasierb told the subcommittee.
Meanwhile, a study just released by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University in New York says “parental negligence is key to the upswing in access to drugs.”
The CASA study says teenagers can get their hands on prescription drugs more quickly and easily this year than last year — which basically means more easily than ever.
“A substantial number of American parents have become passive pushers,” says CASA chairman Joseph Califano Jr. “A few decades ago, parents used to have a lock on the liquor cabinet. Maybe there should be a lock on the medicine cabinet. Availability is the mother of use.”
Although CASA believes easy availability drives abuse, teenagers’ easy-going attitude toward prescription drugs and their general ignorance of the dangers of prescription drug addiction plays a major role. The Partnership’s Pasierb said recently that attitudes count most, and that to a certain degree “use moves independent of supply.”
The CASA report comes right when more teens and young adults than ever are abusing prescription medication and falling prey to prescription drug addiction than to all other drugs except marijuana and inhalants.
The Partnership study of 6,500 teens from grades 7 through 12 reveals roughly one in five teens say they’ve tried a prescription drug for recreational use — without a prescription — at least once in their lives. And about one in 10 say they’ve used over-the-counter cough medicine “to get high.”
“Only alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana and inhalants are abused by teenagers at higher rates than prescription drugs,” the report says. “Cocaine and Ecstasy are each roughly half as prevalent as prescription drug abuse. The prevalence of teen abuse of methamphetamine is just over one third that of prescription drugs.”
While prescription opioid pain killers are way ahead of cocaine, Ecstasy, and all other illicit drugs as the leading cause of prescription drug addiction, injury and death among America’s teens and young adults, the Partnership study shows that the prevalence of prescription and over the counter drug abuse, as well as outright prescription drug addiction, has not significantly increased over the past three years.
“But it’s troubling to realize that with just one or two exceptions, teen use of virtually all other substances of abuse — alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, methamphetamine and cocaine — has declined over the same period, and in fact has been in steady decline over the past decade,” Pasierb said.
Clearly, more education and prevention measures do need to be taken to combat prescription drug addiction and abuse. And as the population of abusers increases, there will be an ever greater need for treatment programs, including medical drug detox and rehabilitation.
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