Teens Popping Pills

Prescription painkiller abuse is especially high in American teenagers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Don’t let the medicine cabinet become a playground of painkillers for teens to abuse. Overdoses from painkillers are becoming far more common than those from heroin and cocaine.

A recent study looked at the rates of prescription painkiller abuse from 1985 to 2009. The study’s findings revealed a 40 percent increase in abuse rates.

These researchers point to two reasons: more painkillers being available in parents’ medicine cabinets and parents' attitudes and behaviors towards those pain killers, work as direct influences in increased usage in adolescents.

"Talk to your children about Rx, OTC and illegal drugs."

Richard Miech, PhD, professor of sociology at the University of Colorado in Denver, was the lead author.

Dr. Miech said, “Prescription drug use is the next big epidemic.” The research team looked at data from the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 1985 to 2009, for the study.

In 1991, there were around 40 million legal prescriptions for the pain medications oxycodone and hydrocodone written.

In 2007, there were around 180 million legal prescriptions written for the same medications. That is an increase of 3.5 times in a 16-year period—and all legal.

Dr. Miech said, “Youth who observe their parents taking analgesics as prescribed may come to the conclusion that any use of these drugs is OK and safe.”

Emergency room visits from non-medical painkiller use have increased 129 percent from 2004 to 2009.

From 1997 to 2007, Americans seeking treatment for painkiller abuse increased by 500 percent.

Deaths from painkiller overdoses have now eclipsed those from both heroin and cocaine.

Results of the study found that today’s youth are abusing prescription painkillers at a rate 40 percent greater than that of past generations.

These results were found in men and women, whites, blacks and Hispanics.

Authors recommend interventions targeted at reversing the increase of non-medical prescription painkiller abuse.

This study was published in October in the Journal of Adolescent Health. No funding information was available. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 26, 2012
Last Updated:
September 16, 2013