Teenage Rx Abuse Continues

Prescriptions taken by teens for non medical uses come from friends and family

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

(RxWiki News) Teenagers have been using prescription medications for recreational purposes. Parents and teachers may be able convince teens that non-medical use of prescriptions is dangerous.

Researchers surveyed a large group of middle and high school students about whether they had taken prescription medications for non-medical reasons.

The survey results showed that nearly one out of every seven teens said they had used a prescription medication without the supervision of a healthcare provider.

"Talk to your kids about Rx abuse."

Keith A. King, PhD, professor in the Health Promotion and Education Program at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, led an investigation into prescription medication abuse among adolescents.

According to the authors, non-medical use of prescription medication among teenagers has increased substantially in recent years, becoming a national public health problem.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimated that seven million people in the US used prescription pain killers, tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives for non-medical purposes in 2010.

A separate survey revealed that adolescents use of prescription medications to get high, which ranked second only to marijuana for illegal drugs used by teens. 

In 2012, national data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that 10 percent of kids between 12 and 17 years of age had used a prescription medication for non-medical purposes. 

Accidental overdoses from non-medical use of prescription medications have increased over the past decade, according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

"Youth perceive prescription drugs as easily accessible and as more readily available than other illegal drugs," wrote the authors of the current study. 

For their research, Dr. King and colleagues surveyed 7th through 12th grade students from eight counties in the Greater Cincinnati area. During the 2009-2010 academic year, 54,361 adolescents attending one of 133 different public or private schools answered survey questions about substance use and abuse.

Half of the students were male, 75 percent were white, 14 percent were African American, 2 percent were Hispanic and 2 percent were Asian.                                                        

The majority of the students (62 percent) said they lived with both parents, 16 percent said they lived with their mother only and 3 percent said they lived with their father only.

Only 29 percent of students had some sort of full- or part-time employment.

Overall, 14 percent of the students said they had used prescription medications for non-medical reasons. The researchers did not provide specific information on which prescription medications the teens were abusing. 

When the students were asked how often they used prescription medications for non-medical purposes: 

  • 6 percent said they had only used them one to two times ever 
  • 3 percent said they had only used them three to nine times 
  • 2 percent said they had used them 10 to 19 times 
  • 1 percent said they had used them 20 to 39 times  
  • 3 percent said they had used them more than 40 times

Of those who had used prescription medications for non-medical purposes, just over half were boys and more than two-thirds were in high school. The rates of use were higher among whites and Hispanics compared to African Americans.

The rates of use were higher in teens that were employed compared to teens that were not employed. The researchers suggested that teens with money from their jobs were more likely to be able to buy prescription medications for non-medical use. 

The researchers said that teens may opt to consume prescription medications for non-medical reasons in order to enhance alertness, lower anxiety, ease depression, relieve pain and insomnia, as well as for excitement.

The researchers also said that most teens were unaware of the dangerous side effects associated with recreational use of prescription medications, such as overheating, irregular heartbeat, chest pains, seizures, trouble breathing and even death. 

Previous studies have shown that more than half of people that use prescription medications for non-medical purposes get them from family members or friends. 

"Non-medical prescription drugs are often easily accessible from family members or friends, and as a result may be erroneously viewed as safe and legitimate to use," the authors wrote.

“Parent and teacher/school factors were significant in reducing non-medical prescription medication use among all students surveyed. Similarly, perceived peer disapproval of substance use was also associated with reduced non-medical prescription medication use,” they wrote.

This study was published in May in The Journal of Primary Prevention.

No funding information was made available to the public. No conflicts of interest were declared.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 29, 2013
Last Updated:
August 8, 2013