Declines Noted in Teen Use of OTC Drugs, Cigarettes

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Teens have long been aware of the campaign to keep them from using illegal drugs. They know that alcohol is off-limits, and that harder drugs are dangerous. However, in recent years it has become clear how adaptable the teenage appetite is for opportunities to experience the high of drugs.

In lieu of using illegal drugs or alcohol, many teens are turning to their medicine cabinets at home. Using their parents’ over-the-counter (OTC) medications, they can often create a very dangerous combination of drugs and the recreational use of prescription drugs has also become popular.

A recent “Monitoring the Future” survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), however, indicates that teens are increasingly making wise choices about using OTC medications recreationally.

The report indicates that the past year has shown a decrease in the number of teens using OTC drugs in a recreational way. In the past month, 5.3 percent of seniors in high school reported abusing OTC cough and cold medications, compared with 6.6 percent of seniors reporting the same activity last year.

After the report was released, the Consumer Health Products Association announced that its efforts would not decrease in providing education to parents, teens and school officials focused on the risks of abusing OTC medications. The Association said that teens using medicine cabinets as a source for getting high remains a concern and the leading manufacturers of OTC medicines will continue to fight against the behavior.

While the decline of OTC medicine use is encouraging, other areas of abuse are on the rise. For instance, the report provides evidence that the abuse of prescription drugs is increasing among teens. In 2011, approximately 15.2 percent of high school seniors abused a prescription drug, compared with 15.1 percent in 2010. Vicodin and Adderall topped the list of abused drugs.

In order to educate teenagers about the risks associated with the recreational use of prescription drugs, NIDA provides information specifically about the abuse of prescription drugs on their teen website. NIDA also taps into the perspective of teens, asking visitors to provide feedback on the education featured.

The survey reveals that cigarette and alcohol use were at an all-time low since 1975, the first year that the survey was conducted. In 2011, 18.7 percent of seniors reported past-month cigarette use, compared with the all-time high rate of 36.5 percent in 1997 and 21.5 percent in 2006. While the decline is good news, the sharp declines exhibited in the 1990s have slowed significantly, revealing a need for increased initiatives to drive down teen cigarette use.

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