Pharmaceutical Drug Abuse in Youth

Pharmaceutical Drug

Pharmaceutical drug abuse among teens is a growing problem, especially considering that Americans between the ages of 12 and 49 who abuse prescription drugs are more likely to use heroin than others in the same age group. Prescription and over-the-counter drugs are the most abused drugs by high school seniors, and for teens aged 12 to 17, prescription drug use comes in second just after marijuana for most used drugs.  Not only does this lead to an increased risk of heroin use, it also leads to other troubling behaviors in teens, such as alcohol and other drug use.

Each day more than 2,000 teens start abusing prescription drugs.  Oftentimes, this drug abuse starts because teens believe that prescription drugs are safe.  In Indianapolis, where efforts are being made to stop the growing problem of teen prescription drug abuse, Deputy Chief Bryan Roach said, “There is a sense that heroin is bad but prescription drugs are good because it comes from a  pharmacy, or it comes from a doctor.” Deputy Chief Roach continued to say that the department is trying to show teens how prescription drug abuse can lead to heroin use.

What constitutes pharmaceutical drug abuse? Pharmaceutical drug abuse is using a pharmaceutical drug in a manner other than its intended use.  If a teen has a headache and uses another individual’s pain medication, that is prescription drug abuse.  Prescription drug abuse also includes using a drug just to experience the feeling it brings.

Pharmaceutical drug abuse in youth is alarming.  Roughly one in 12 high school seniors, who abuse pharmaceutical drugs more than any other drug, have abused the prescription painkiller Vicodin. Two-thirds of teens who have abused prescription drugs began doing so before age 16. 1 in 5 American teens reported to taking a prescription drug that was not prescribed to them.

Where are these teens getting the pharmaceutical drugs from?  They can come from their own house. Medicine cabinets can contain a cocktail of pharmaceutical drug options. 70 percent of teens who have abused prescription drugs said they got them from a friend or relative.

An especially good option for teens looking to abuse pharmaceutical drugs are grandparents. The reason why grandparents can be a likely option for teens to get drugs from is because their medical cabinets are usually full of a variety of different medications, both over-the-counter and prescription.  Grandparents are in an age group that is known for taking multiple medications, both prescriptions and over-the-counter. One special piece of advice for grandparents is to begin taking an inventory of medications before teens come over, and then taking an inventory again after they have left.  While that advice is geared towards grandparents, it is a good idea for anyone who has teens in their home. Another piece of advice is to simply prevent the chance of any drugs being taken by keeping them in a locked cabinet, although an inventory of medication should still be taken.

Along with the increased risk of heroin use, there are other risks of abusing prescription medication.  80 percent of individuals who recently began using heroin said they were abusing prescription painkillers first.  Addiction to pharmaceutical drugs is another risk that comes with abusing these drugs. Serious health problems can occur from youth abusing pharmaceutical drugs.  Death is also a risk. In 2010, 3,000 young adults, ages 18 to 25, died from prescription drug abuse.

By Ashley Campbell



The Partnership at

Rx Safety Matters

National Institute on Drug Abuse

Central Pennsylvania

One Response to "Pharmaceutical Drug Abuse in Youth"

  1. Dr. Jacquie Damgaard   March 14, 2014 at 10:43 am

    Great article. Amidst the opioid epidemic we are in right now, it’s alarming that the FDA would approve a drug like Zohydro, an extended release pain medication that is five to 10 times stronger (in its highest dose) than Vicodin and doesn’t include any “abuse-deterrent formulation.” For an adult who lacks opioid tolerance, ingesting just two capsules could cause an overdose. And a child could die from just ingesting one capsule. This drug could be especially dangerous in the hands of teens.

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