Non-medical Use of Prescription Drugs Among Teens

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Drug use among teens has traditionally brought to mind images of kids dealing drugs in dark hallways at school. Parents may have kept an eye on any new friends who came around their teens, looking for suspicious behaviors or traits that might indicate a predatory situation.

Instead of needing to find the right connection to access drugs, many teens now have the only contact necessary: a parent with a chronic pain complaint. Teens can now find the substances they need for a high at no cost and with the convenience of walking down the hall to the family medicine cabinet.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides regular reports about trends in drug use among segments of the population in the United States. Using the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), which gathers information about drug-related emergency department visits, SAMHSA can give detailed data about how drugs are being used and by whom.

A recent report published by SAMHSA gives new information about pharmaceutical drug misuse and abuse that led to a visit to the emergency department. The report shows that nonmedical use of prescriptions is increasing among teens in the U.S., resulting in 66,517 emergency department visits. The visits included in the report were for adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17.

The visits related to nonmedical use of prescription drugs accounts for approximately two-fifths, or 39 percent of all drug-related emergency department visits among teenagers.

The use of prescription drugs for recreational use varied in its proportion of drug-related visits by gender among those between the ages of 15 and 17. Girls used prescription drugs at a rate of 45 percent versus 31 percent for boys. Among younger teens, the difference was not significant, with girls misusing prescriptions at a rate of 47 percent versus 43 percent for boys.

The findings present a snapshot of the nonmedical prescription drug use during the year 2010.

The findings suggest that parents may not be aware of the wide possibilities of drug use available to teens. Illicit drugs and alcohol present some barriers for acquisition, such as a the need to find a drug dealer or a person willing to purchase alcohol or drugs on the teen’s behalf.

However, for many teens, they only need access to either a parent’s or a grandparent’s medicine cabinet to find the substances.

The information presented by SAMHSA highlights the need for targeted education, prevention and intervention efforts, primarily among girls in later adolescence. The findings show that there is a particular need for strategic measures among this group.

In addition, parents should take necessary precautions to monitor the medications that they keep in their home. Pain medications, for instance, that are no longer needed should be disposed of properly.

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