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Teens and Prescription Drugs: An Analysis of Recent Trends on the Emerging Drug Threat (page 2)

By — Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Feb 26, 2009

Myth vs. Reality

Teens are abusing prescription drugs because they believe the myth that these drugs provide a medically safe high.

Nearly one in five teens (19% or 4.5 million) report abusing prescription medications that were not prescribed to them. (PATS, 2006)

Teens admit to abusing prescription medicine for reasons other than getting high, including to relieve pain or anxiety, to sleep better, to experiment, to help with concentration or to increase alertness. (Boyd, McCabe, Cranford and young, 2006)

When teens abuse prescription drugs, they often characterize their use of the drugs as responsible, controlled, or safe, with the perception that the drugs are safer than street drugs. (Friedman, 2006)

More than one-third of teens say they feel some pressure to abuse prescription drugs, and nine percent say using prescription drugs to get high is an important part of fitting in with their friends. (Seventeen, 2006)

Four out of 10 teens agree that prescription medicines are much safer to use than illegal drugs, even if they are not prescribed by a doctor. (PATS, 2006)

One-third of teens (31% or 7.3 million) believe there's nothing wrong with using prescrip- tion medicines without a prescription once in a while. (PATS, 2006)

Nearly three out of 10 teens (29% or 6.8 million) believe prescription pain relievers -- even if not prescribed by a doctor -- are not addictive. (PATS, 2006)

Accessibility and Availibility

The majority of teens get prescription drugs easily and for free, often from friends and relatives.

Nearly half (47%) of teens who use prescription drugs say they get them for free from a relative or friend. Ten percent say they buy pain relievers from a friend or relative, and another 10 percent say they took the drugs without asking. (NSDUH, 2006)

More than three in five (62% or 14.6 million) teens say prescription pain relievers are easy to get from parents' medicine cabinets; half of teens (50% or 11.9 million) say they are easy to get through other people's prescriptions; and more than half (52% or 12.3 million) say prescription pain relievers are available everywhere. (PATS, 2006)

The majority of teens (56% or 13.4 million) agree that prescription drugs are easier to get than illegal drugs. (PATS, 2006)

More teens have been offered prescription drugs than other illicit drugs, excluding mari- juana. Fourteen percent of 12-17-year-olds have been offered prescription drugs at some point in their lives, compared to 10 percent of teens who have been offered cocaine, ecstasy (9%), methamphetamine (6%) and LSD (5%). (CASA, 2006)

14-year-olds are four times more likely than 13-year-olds to be offered prescription drugs. (CASA, 2006)

Thirty-nine percent of 14-20-year-olds say it is easy to get prescription drugs online or by phone. Of that total, more girls than boys said it was easy (48% vs. 31%). (TRU, 2006)

Gender Differences

Girls are more likely than boys to intentionally abuse prescription drugs to get high.

Among 12-17-year-olds, girls are more likely than boys to have abused prescription drugs (9.9% of girls vs. 8.2% of boys), pain relievers (8.1% vs. 7.0 %), tranquilizers (2.6% vs. 1.9%), and stimulants (2.6% vs. 1.9%) in the past year. (SAMHSA, 2006)

Among 12-17-year-olds, girls had higher rates of dependence or abuse involving prescription drugs (1.8% for girls and 1.1% for boys), pain relievers (1.4% vs. 0.8%), tranquilizers (0.4% vs. 0.3%) and stimulants (0.5% vs. 0.3%) in the past year. (SAMHSA, 2006)

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