Recreational Prescription Drugs Use Persists Among Young People

After years of public awareness campaigns and tragic news reports, Americas would be hard-pressed to be unaware of prescription drug dangers. Medications like OxyContin have been at the center of countless articles and health reports. Still, a new study shows that teen prescription drug abuse persists with many parents yet to take the danger seriously.

In 2008 a survey by Columbia University’s Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) asked teens how easy it was for them to get hold of specific drugs and substances: marijuana, beer, cigarettes and prescription drugs. At 43 percent, just under half the respondents said they could get marijuana in as little as an hour if they wanted. Close to 20 percent said that prescription drugs were easy to obtain, with 34 percent saying they were at home.

The 2008 survey found that the less aware parents were of their teens’ evening activities the more likely it was that the kids were using drugs. After 10 p.m., 50 percent of teens not home were hanging out with people who were either smoking or using drugs. Fifty percent of the teens said that they were out on school nights and yet just 14 percent of parents were aware of that fact.

Five years later a new study shows that teens still have easy access to prescription drugs in the home and relatively little parental oversight. A five year University of Michigan study of more than 500 8th and 9th graders found that those who had been given a prescription for potentially addictive medications within the past six months had unfettered access, with three out of four saying they could take them any time.

The CASA study found that it was incredibly easy for kids to access their prescriptions for anti-anxiety, pain, sedative and stimulant medications. Of the teens who said their parents did supervise medication use, 50 percent reported that the drugs were kept on the kitchen counter, a bathroom drawer or somewhere equally accessible. The parents didn’t suspect their child would misuse the medications and they took no precautions to keep them safe.

According to a Center for Disease Control and Prevention report in July, fatalities from drug overdoses have more than tripled over the past 20 years.

When teens have this kind of unsupervised access the chances they’ll use them recreationally soars, along with the potential for accidental overdoses. Those prescribing the drugs need to emphasize to parents how crucial it is to keep medications stored securely and even how to dispose of them once the period of prescription has expired. These are not drugs to keep on hand “just in case.”

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