Thursday, April 21, 2005

American teens wanting to get high have a new source for obtaining drugs — their parents’ medicine cabinets.

Because of easy accessibility and a feeling of safety over “street drugs,” prescription and over-the-counter medicines have created a new category of abuse, a national study finds.

In its 17th annual study of teen drug abuse, Partnership for a Drug-Free America found that 10 percent of teens — 2.3 million — have abused the prescription painkiller OxyContin. The same number have abused Ritalin and/or Adderall, prescriptions intended for the treatment of attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder.

About 9 percent of youths — 2.2 million — have abused cough medicine or other over-the-counter drugs, the report said.

“Increasingly, teenagers are getting high through the intentional abuse of medications,” said Roy Bostock, the partnership’s chairman. “For the first time, our national study finds that today’s teens are more likely to have abused a prescription painkiller to get high than they are to have experimented with a variety of illicit drugs.

“Generation Rx has arrived.”

Adolescent abuse of prescription and over-the-counter medications represents the most significant developments in substance abuse trends in recent memory, said Steve Pasierb, president and chief executive officer of the partnership.

Close to half of 7,300 teens surveyed said they think using prescription drugs to get high is “much safer” than using “street drugs.” Close to one-third said prescription painkillers are not addictive.

When asked why abuse of prescription medicines is increasing among peers, teens cited “ease of access” as a major factor. The majority said they obtain such drugs from their parents’ medicine cabinets and/or medicine cabinets in the homes of friends.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), another group that tracks teens’ attitudes toward drugs, said the partnership’s findings confirm those of a CASA teen survey last year that showed an increase in prescription drug abuse.

“It’s extremely important for parents to keep prescription drugs out of the reach of their children,” said Joseph A. Califano, CASA chairman and president.

He advises parents to follow the lead of “our parents, who locked up the liquor” to keep it away from children and teens. Medicine cabinets, too, need to be locked.

The survey of more than 7,300 adolescents in grades seven through 12 found that 37 percent used marijuana, translating into 8.7 million children. But that proportion is down from 42 percent in 1998.

As for other illegal drugs, the 2004 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study found 9 percent of teens said they have used cocaine or crack cocaine; 9 percent, Ecstasy; 8 percent, methamphetamine; 6 percent, LSD; 5 percent, ketamine; 4 percent, heroin; and 4 percent, GHB.

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