The Epidemic of Teen Prescription Drug Abuse
For nearly 25 years Sean Grover L.C.S.W. has worked with teenagers in therapy groups and asked them to identify any mood altering substances that they or their friends have tried. Year after year, the top two answers were always the same: marijuana and alcohol.
Recently, he asked teenagers in his groups the same question. What drugs or mood-altering substances have they or their friends tried? Here’s the what they said: Ritalin, Adderall, Vyvanse, Concerta, Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, Ecstasy/Molly, and Cocaine.
Over three quarters of the substances they identified were prescription medications. Group after group, he was flabbergasted to hear the same drugs listed over and over again. Keep in mind, these teenagers and their friends who you don’t look like drug users; most maintain good grades, are liked by their teachers, and have positive relationships with their parents.
According to The Foundation for a Drug-free World, 90% of prescription drug addicts reported that they started using prescription drugs in middle school or high school. This is supported by a National Institute on Drug Abuse report which notes 25% of prescription drugs abusers started using prescription drugs before they were 13 years old.
This isn’t a minor problem among youth in the U.S. -- it’s a national epidemic. According to the New York Times, there are an average of 125 overdoses per day, with rural areas recording higher overdose death rates than large cities.
Parents in the Dark
Prescription drug abuse can be difficult for parents to spot. Unlike, marijuana or alcohol, there is no odor or smell. As teenagers are prone to mood swings or unstable behaviors, it’s common for parents to chalk up their unpredictable behaviors to symptoms of adolescence. Teens abusing prescription drugs may, at times, even seem more energetic and focused.
For example, one parent reported that her son started finishing his homework in record time. She was pleased that he was finally applying himself. When it was recommended that she add a drug test during his annual physical, she balked. After a brief discussion, she reluctantly agreed. The test came back positive for amphetamines. He confessed to buying Adderall, an ADD medication, with his lunch money; five dollars a pill. He also admitted to drinking alcohol at parties while on Adderall, which increases health dangers.
The Health Hazards of Prescription Medication Abuse
Prescription medications can be very attractive to teenagers who struggle with bouts of psychological and emotional distress resulting from hormone imbalances, irregularities in brain development, social pressures or family conflicts. Prescription drugs offer an instant escape from discomfort and insecurity. After using prescription drugs, many teens report a burst of confidence or a sense of euphoria that they had never known before. Adolescents who are particularly impulsive, lack foresight, or wrestle with low self-esteem are most vulnerable. To complicate matters, many well-educated teens assume that prescription drugs are safer than “street” drugs. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Center for Lawful Access and Abuse Deterrence reports that medical emergencies resulting from prescription drug abuse have increased over 132%; in fact, overdoses from prescription meds have now surpassed meth, cocaine, and heroin -- combined.