Teens Abusing Prescription and Over the Counter Medications - FamilyEducation

Teens and Drug Abuse: Rx and OTC Medications

by Nancy Witting

Studies show drug abuse among teens is declining, lending credence to the idea that talking to kids about these substances really does help. However, studies also show teens are now more likely to abuse prescription medications than illegal drugs.

Generation Rx

Turns out, parents talking to kids about drugs really does work. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America has released the findings from their 2008 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS), which found that there is a major increase in the number of teens who have "learned a lot" about the risks of drugs from their parents. What's more, data are continuing to show notable, sustained declines in several drugs of abuse, particularly methamphetamine (down 25 percent over three years) and marijuana (down 30 percent over ten years). However, there is bad news, too, and it may hit closer to home: The 2008 PATS also revealed that teenagers are now more likely to abuse prescription (Rx) and over-the-counter (OTC) medications than any illegal drugs.

The Partnership is raising a red flag about this "entrenched behavior" among teens, warning parents that they need to address the issue with their kids. Only 24 percent of teens reported that their parents talked with them about the dangers of prescription drug abuse or use of medications without a doctor's supervision, and only 18 percent of teens said their parents discussed the risks of abusing OTC cough medicine.

According to the 2008 PATS, about 20 percent of teens reported abusing a prescription medication at least once, while 7 percent reported abusing OTC cough medicine in the past year.

In fact, PATS found that 41 percent of teens mistakenly believe that abuse of medicines is less dangerous than abuse of illegal street drugs, and most reported that prescription drugs are easier to get than illegal drugs. They take them from parents' medicine cabinets, get them through other people's prescriptions, or buy them on the Internet.

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