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Teens and Prescription Drugs: Availability, Accessibility, and Abuse

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Teens and Prescription Drugs: Availability, Accessibility, and Abuse

Jamila Gambrell

Tiffin University

Abstract

The misuse of prescription drugs by teens in the United States is a growing public health problem. This article provides a systematic synthesis of multiple strands of literature to recommend effective prevention methods. Using a social-ecological framework, we review the scope of the problem of prescription drug use among teens. Then, analyze the multiple factors that may influence teen knowledge and attitudes toward prescription drugs and discuss the important challenges related to the construction of effective prevention programs. Finally, provide recommendations for practice that attempt to overcome these challenges.

These days, drugs can be found anywhere, and it seems like everyone is either doing them or has done them. Teens are especially tempted by the excitement or escape that drugs seem to offer. While U.S. teenagers' use of marijuana is declining, their abuse of prescription drugs is holding steady or in some cases increasing, the drug dealer is us. Prescription medication abuse by teens and young adults is a serious problem in the United States. Teens have found other ways and means to get high; painkillers and other prescription drugs are being abused at record levels. Teens can easily the misuse of prescription drugs by teens in the United States is a growing problem. Large-scale, national surveys of youth drug use, such as the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Monitoring the Future Study (MTF) (Johnston, 2009), report such significant increases in nonmedical use of prescription drugs that the current generation of youth has been referred to as Generation Rx.

Although basic descriptive information is available on patterns of misuse among teens, there have been few systematic analyses of factors that may influence teens' knowledge about and attitudes towards prescription drugs--key factors for the creation of effective prevention programs. What is more, there has been limited application of the scant available information to the development and implementation of prevention programs to curb these increases. In this article, this information gap would be filled by connecting descriptive research on usage with extant literature on factors that may influence teens' knowledge and attitudes related to prescription drugs.

The current article is organized as follows. First, the review the scope of the problem of prescription drug use among teens. Second, analyze the multiple factors that may influence teen knowledge and attitudes toward prescription drugs. Finally, discussing the important challenges related to the construction of effective prevention programs. On the whole, the article provides the first systematic examination of multiple strands of literature to construct methods that may curb prescription drug misuse among teens. Using Boyd's (2006) definition of prescription drugs misuse, which is the nonmedical use of a prescription drug without a doctor's prescription. Moreover, the term misuse encompasses both self-medication using the drug without a prescription to obtain the intended benefit of that drug and recreational use to get high or feel good. Four factors help define the scope of the problem of prescription drug misuse: how many teens are misusing prescription medication, the extent to which usage varies across demographic groups, misperceptions among teens about prescription drugs, and the consequences of misusing prescription drugs.

According to SAMHSA (2009), 9.1% of teens aged 12-17 misused prescription drugs in 2007, and prescription drugs are the most commonly abused drugs for 12-13 year-olds. More specifically, 7.4%, 2.2%, and 1.2% of youth ages 12-17 have misused a prescription pain reliever, prescription sedative or tranquilizer, or prescription stimulant, respectively. In 2007, there were as many new abusers of prescription drugs as new users of marijuana (SAMHSA 2009). Several types of prescription drugs are misused by teens. Pain relievers or opioids, such as Vicodin or OxyContin, are the most frequently misused type of prescription drug. Other drugs that are used non-medically include stimulants, such as methylphenidate (Ritalin), and tranquilizers, such as Valium and Xanax. Results from the 2009 MTF survey show similar rates of use to those reported by NSDUH, with significant increases from 2004 to 2009. Use remains steady to date (Johnston, 2009). Trends from these national surveys indicate that, at the same time, teen use of all other drugs, such as marijuana, nicotine, and alcohol, decreased (Johnston, 2009).

Extrapolating data, a teen who misuses prescription drugs is more likely to be female, white, and in her late teens. Considering age alone, findings from the MTF survey indicate that usage rates rise consistently between 8th and 12th grade. Lifetime use of opioid prescription drugs is significantly higher among white 12th grade students (16.1%) than Hispanic (7.9%) or black (3.6%) students. The findings for sedative drugs also reflect this pattern: 11.8% of Caucasian, 9.4% of Hispanic and 3.3% of African American students in grade 12 report misuse of these drugs (Johnston, 2009). Other national and regional studies also found higher misuse rates for Caucasian students (see Boyd et al. 2006b; McCabe et al. 2007a; McCabe et al. 2004; SAMHSA 2006). Among teens aged 12-17, females are somewhat more likely than males to misuse prescription drugs across all drug classes, including painkillers, stimulants and sedatives (SAMHSA 2009). Furthermore, girls have higher dependency and abuse rates of prescription drugs across all drug classes (SAMHSA 2009).

Across demographic groups, there is evidence that teens underestimate the hazards of prescription drug abuse. For example, one-third of teens believe there is nothing wrong with using prescription medications for non-medical purposes occasionally (Johnston, 2009). Furthermore, teens frequently characterize their misuse of prescription drugs as responsible, controlled, or safe (Friedman 2006). The 2008 SAMHSA study found that 40% of teens agree that prescription drugs are much safer to use than illegal drugs, even without a prescription and close to one-third of teenagers say that prescription painkillers are not addictive.

Despite these misconceptions, prescription drug misuse can have significant consequences, including addiction and physical risk. When first misuse of prescription drugs occurs before the age of 16, teens have a

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