As families begin preparations for the upcoming school year, parents should be aware of a peer-pressure problem burgeoning nationwide: prescription-drug abuse. Parents, particularly those with teen-age girls, should hold frank discussions with their children about this problem, which is causing increased deaths and hospitalizations across the country.
Nearly one in five 7th- through 12th-graders say they have used prescription drugs to get high, according to a survey by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. One in 10 say they’ve gotten high off of cough medicine. These figures put prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse among teens on equal footing with illegal drugs. According to the same source, 10 percent of teens have tried cocaine, 8 percent have tried methamphetamine and 5 percent have tried heroin. The United States spends billions of dollars annually fighting illegal street drugs domestically and abroad. Some of these funds should be diverted or new funds collected for waging a new war on our medicine cabinets through campaigns educating parents and teens about the prevalence and risks of Rx drug abuse.
Reports of teen-agers swapping prescription-drug cocktail recipes on popular Web sites like MySpace indicate the ease with which teens are raiding their parents’ medicine cabinets or fraudulently filling prescriptions to get a temporary buzz or worse. Many teens are mistaken about the risks of abusing prescription drugs. Forty percent of them believe doing this is “much safer” than using illegal street drugs, while nearly one-third say there’s “nothing wrong” with using prescription drugs without physician approval. Fifty-five percent of teens strongly disagree that it is risky to get high off of cough medicine. Such naivete leads to tragedy time and again. Abusing prescription drugs also opens the door to illegal drug abuse as well, such as the case of Tracey Crossett, a 17-year-old Texas girl who died of a heroin overdose. Her plunge into addiction began with the abuse of antidepressant Adderall.
Tracey fits the demographic of the most common teen prescription-drug abuser: teen-age girls. While teen-age boys are more likely to abuse illegal drugs, their female counterparts are more likely to abuse medicines. Government research shows girls account for 35 percent of teen-age hospitalizations involving street drugs but 55 percent of visits involving prescription drugs. Girls abuse these drugs because they want to maintain weight and are less willing to buy street drugs.
This trend is troubling. Parents should carefully monitor their prescription drugs, throw away unused portions and engage in open dialogue with their teens. It’s much more important than any back-to-school sale on notebooks or pencils.