187 West Broad Street |
P.O. Box 1252
Spartanburg, SC 29304
CAUSE OF DEATHS
Prescription Drugs 45%
Street Drugs Combined: 39%(Amphetamine + Heroin + Methamphetamine + Cocaine)
Depressants, opioids and antidepressants are responsible for more overdose deaths (45%) than cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and amphetamines (39%) combined. In the United States, the most deaths used to take place in inner cities in African-American neighborhoods, but they have now been overtaken by white rural communities. The same trend can be seen in the rates of hospitalization for substance abuse and emergency hospitalization for overdoses. Of the 1.4 million drug-related emergency room admissions in 2005, 598,542 were associated with abuse of pharmaceuticals alone or with other drugs.
By survey, almost 50% of teens believe that prescription drugs are much safer than illegal street drugs—60% to 70% say that home medicine cabinets are their source of drugs.
According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, teens who abuse prescription drugs are twice as likely to use alcohol, five times more likely to use marijuana, and twelve to twenty times more likely to use illegal street drugs such as heroin, Ecstasy and cocaine than teens who do not abuse prescription drugs.
In 2007, the Drug Enforcement Administration found that abuse of the painkiller Fentanyl killed more than 1,000 people that year in the US. It is thirty to fifty times more powerful than heroin.
'I realized I was using more Xanax on a regular basis. I took time off work to get off it. Without the knowledge I was addicted, I went ‘cold turkey.’ For four days and nights I was bedridden. I didn’t sleep or eat. I vomited. I had hallucinations. On about the third day without Xanax I started to become uncoordinated and unbalanced and bumped into things. On about the fourth day I became really worried when I started having twitching sensations." — Patricia
The rate of prescription drug abuse among adolescents has increased dramatically over the past decade. Prescription drugs are the second most commonly abused illicit drug among adolescents—surpassed only by marijuana (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2008). Painkillers, depressants, and stimulants are the medications most frequently abused. The negative consequences of prescription drug abuse can be severe. Many teenagers abuse prescription drugs in combination with alcohol or other drugs, increasing the risk for adverse outcomes. Unlike other types of illicit drugs, prescription drugs can be fairly accessible to teenagers, who most often find these drugs in their own homes. Accessibility, along with the common misconception that prescription drugs are a "safe high," make adolescent prescription drug abuse an increasingly significant problem that demands the attention of educators, parents, law enforcement officials, policy makers, health professionals, and prevention specialists.
While research indicates that less than one percent of teens acquire prescription drugs from the Internet, adolescents do visit manufacturer and pro-drug Web sites to obtain dosage information, identify pills, learn about drug interactions and effects, and find out how to pass drug tests. Teens also engage in online chat rooms and read blogs to hear about others’ experiences using prescription drugs illicitly. This online drug culture, researchers believe, may contribute to the misconception that most teenagers abuse prescription drugs and/or that prescription drug abuse is relatively risk-free (Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America, 2008).
Prescription drug abuse by adolescents should be taken as seriously as alcohol, tobacco, and other drug (ATOD) abuse. It can lead to increased truancy and behavioral problems, as well as abuse of ATOD. It can also negatively affect academic performance. Research on and prevention strategies for prescription drug abuse are underway. In the meantime, parents, educators, health professionals, legislators, and most importantly adolescents themselves need to be aware of the pervasiveness of prescription drug abuse and its harmful consequences. The following are strategies for parents, educators, and communities to combat prescription drug abuse among adolescents.
Parents and caregivers can have an enormous impact on their children’s attitudes towards prescription drugs. While 60 percent of parents report discussing drugs like marijuana “a lot” with their children, only a third discuss the risks of abusing prescription drugs (Partnership for a Drug-Free America, 2006). When parents talk to their children about ATOD abuse, they need to address the dangers of prescription drug abuse. When a child is prescribed a medication by a health care provider, the provider and parents should clarify that the medication is only to be taken as prescribed and is never to be shared with friends or acquaintances.
Additional steps parents and caregivers can take include the following:
Schools are another location where teens have access to prescription drugs, especially since some students are prescribed medications that must be taken during the school day. Administrators and school nurses need to ensure that only those students with prescriptions take medications on campus. To understand the prevalence of prescription drug abuse among students, school leaders and health educators can add questions about prescription drug abuse to health risk surveys administered to students. Health educators can teach lessons to help students understand the dangers of prescription drug abuse and build students’ skills to avoid illicit use of prescription drugs. Guest speakers can be invited to school to address students. In Tazewell County, Virginia, a community substance abuse task force developed a program in which a police officer, a physician, a pharmacist, and a probation officer visit the classroom to talk about the risks of prescription drugs (CADCA, 2008).
Most states have policies regarding student self-medication in schools. Many schools require students who take prescription medications and their parents to sign a self-medication agreement that reviews policies related to using medications on campus and the consequences of sharing medications with other students. (Government Accountability Office, 2001)
School nurses and all other school staff should be on the lookout for the following signs that a student may be abusing prescription drugs:
Schools, physicians' offices, and local pharmacies should collect and disseminate information about prescription drug abuse to adolescents and their parents. Such information should address the dangers of prescription drug abuse; relevant local, state, and national hotlines and online resources; where to seek treatment; and strategies for parents to use when talking with their children about prescription drug abuse. Some communities have sponsored a roundtable discussion or town hall meeting to raise awareness about prescription drug abuse among adolescents. The event can be organized and facilitated by school staff, but should include community representatives such as parents, physicians and nurses, pharmacists, law enforcement officials, educators, school board members, local media representatives, and adolescents (this may include individuals in recovery from prescription drug abuse). The objective of such a forum are for participants to learn about the issue from a variety of perspectives, share their experiences, discuss strategies for preventing prescription drug abuse, and explore how various sectors of the community can collaborate to prevent it.
Because physicians give youth and adults access to prescription drugs, they must play a central role in preventing prescription drug abuse and educating their patients about its dangers. Important steps for physicians to take include the following:
Pharmacists can play an important role in preventing and reducing prescription drug abuse by employing the following strategies:
Prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) enable physicians and pharmacists to log filled prescriptions into an electronic database. Information in the database is used to identify illegal activity such as prescription forgery, indiscriminate prescribing, and doctor shopping-visiting several physicians or pharmacies to obtain controlled substances. There are currently 38 states with legislation requiring PDMPs (USDOJ, 2008). PDMPs help reduce the time and effort of law enforcement officials and medical professionals to identify potential prescription drug abusers and illegitimate prescriptions. Every PDMP provides safeguards to protect patient confidentiality, and only authorized individuals can access the prescription information (USDOJ, 2008). States with PDMPs have reduced their rates of illegal use of prescription drugs. Unfortunately, when one state enacts a PDMP, bordering states that do not have a PDMP often report an increase in illicit use of prescription drugs (Government Accountability Office, 2002). Funding is available through the U.S. Department of Justice to state authorities for creating or enhancing PDMPs.
Prescription drug abuse among adolescents is gaining the attention of parents, educators, and community officials. There are promising strategies for parents, schools, medical professionals, and law enforcement agencies to employ to combat the abuse. Building state and community coalitions with relevant stakeholders helps to create awareness of the issue and determine how to enact strategies that reduce this significant threat to our nation's youth.Download PDF