Attention Educators! Prescription Drug Abuse Trend Continues

EducatorThe National Institute on Drug Abuse's (NIDA) 2005 "Monitoring the Future Study" found both good news and bad news among teen drug use. The good news is the number of U.S. students in grades 8, 10 and 12 who say they have used illicit drugs has declined 19% compared with 2001 figures. In numbers, that means over 600,000 fewer teens are using drugs than in 2001. The bad news is there has been a significant increase in the use of prescription pain killers for nonmedical purposes.

Of the 12th graders surveyed, 9.5% reported using hydrocodone in the past year without a prescription and 5.5% reported using oxycodone. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that approximately 48 million people, approximately 20% of the U.S. population aged 12 or older, had used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons in their lifetime. Adding to the concern, teens in some communities are engaging in dangerous trading sessions. These sessions are called "pharm parties" and consist of teens gathering up whatever medications they can find -- old prescriptions of their own, or pills from their families' medicine cabinet, and swapping them.

Fast Facts: Know Your Prescription Drugs

Oxycodone and hydrocodone belong to a class of drugs called opioids. Other classes of drugs frequently abused by teenagers are central nervous system (CNS) depressants, stimulants and anabolic steroids. Certain over-the-counter medicines (OTC) can also be abused when not taken as directed. It is important to note that many prescription drugs or OTC medications can produce dangerous health effects when taken together or with alcohol.

  • Painkillers: Also known as narcotics or opiates. Examples include morphine, codeine, oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin) and meperidine (Demerol). These drugs are generally prescribed to treat severe pain. Dangers when abused: addiction, depressed breathing, and death. Effects are increased by simultaneous use of alcohol.
  • Depressants: Prescribed to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. Examples are pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal), diazepam (Valium), and alprazolam (Xanax). Dangers when abused: slowing down of normal brain function. Large doses can depress breathing and cause a coma. Long-term abuse can lead to physical dependence and addiction.
  • Stimulants: Often prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Examples include methylphenidate (Ritalin) and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine). Dangers when abused: elevated blood pressure and heart rate. High doses can cause dangerously high body temperature and cardiac arrest brought on by an abnormal heartbeat.
  • Anabolic Steroids: Prescribed to treat hormone deficiency in males and breast cancer in females. Examples include testosterone (Androgel, Androderm patch, Depo-testosterone, and Delatestryl injection), and stanozolol (Winstrol). Dangers when abused: infertility, breast development in males, facial hair in females, halted bone growth, liver tumors, cancer and premature heart attacks.

Over-The-Counter (OTC) Medicines

OTC drugs are available at any pharmacy without a prescription. Like prescription drugs, they are safe when used according to package directions or when following a medical professional's recommendations. OTC medicines, including sleep aids such as doxylamine (Unisom), antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), and cough supressants containing dextromethorphan (DXM), have been abused for their psychoactive effects.

In the Hallway

A recent NIDA sponsored survey found that one in four teens with legitimate prescriptions said other kids had asked them for pills. Attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication abuse by those ages 12-17 has resulted in an increase in emergency room visits. A January 2006 Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recommended that ADHD medication carry a warning of increased potential for cardiac problems, such as hypertension, cardiac arrest and stroke. The possibility of experiencing medical problems may be exacerbated by using ADHD medications improperly, or in combination with other drugs.

Students need to know that abusing prescription drugs is no different than abusing illegal drugs. If you become addicted to a painkiller or hospitalized because you stopped breathing, it makes no difference if the drugs that got you there are from a legitimate pharmacy or a drug dealer. Everyone needs to know that abusing prescription drugs is a prescription for disaster.

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