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Survey Finds Teen Misuse And Abuse Of Prescription Drugs Up 33 Percent Since 2008

Prescription Medication

Story at-a-glance -

  • One in four teens has misused a prescription drug at least once in their lifetime, a 33 percent increase in the last five years
  • Many teens and their parents believe prescription drugs are “safer” than illegal street drugs, when in reality they are just as deadly – and often more so
  • 86 percent of teens said their parents had not talked to them about the risks of abusing prescription drugs
  • Signs of prescription drug abuse among teens include constricted pupils, sudden weight loss, unusually increased energy levels, changes in sleeping habits and changes in friends or personal appearance

By Dr. Mercola

One in four teens has misused a prescription drug at least once in their lifetime, according to new survey results from the partnership at and the MetLife Foundation.1

This represents a 33 percent increase in the past five years!

Among one of the most commonly abused class of drugs are stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall, of which one in eight teens (13 percent) said they had taken even though it wasn't prescribed to them.

Prescription drugs don't hold the same stigma as illegal recreational drugs, even though they can be just as deadly, leading teens to regard them as a "safe" way to get high.

In many cases, parents only add to this assumption, not only because they may take multiple prescription drugs themselves but also, as the survey reported, because close to one-third of parents believe prescription stimulants can improve their teen's academic performance.

One in Six Parents Believe Prescription Drugs Give a Safer 'High' Than Street Drugs

Another shocking belief held by one in six parents was that using prescription drugs to get high is safer than using street drugs. This might explain why 86 percent of teens said their parents had not talked to them about the risks of abusing prescription drugs. In fact, it's often the parents' own medicine cabinets that become their children's "drug dealers" …

Some teens even describe having "Skittles parties,"2 where they combine a mix of pills they took from their parent's medicine cabinet into one big bowl, then take a few just for fun.

Sadly, some teens pay for this one "bad" decision with their lives. Drug fatalities more than doubled among teens and young adults between 2000 and 2008, and these drug-induced fatalities are not being driven by illegal street drugs.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the most commonly abused prescription drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax and Soma now cause more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.3 As written in the Baltimore Sun:4

"According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, prescription drugs are second to marijuana as the drug of choice for today's teens. In fact, seven of the top 10 drugs used by 12th-graders were prescription drugs.

More than 40 percent of high school seniors reported that painkillers are 'fairly' or 'very' easy to get. They also reported that they believed that if they were to get caught, there was less shame attached to the use of prescription drugs than to street drugs. This mirrors the perceptions of their parents, who when queried said that they felt prescription drugs were a safer alternative to drugs typically sold by a drug dealer."

There's Nothing "Safe" About Prescription Drug Abuse

If you have a teenager or pre-teen in your life that you care about, please make it a point to sit down and talk to them about the dangers of taking prescription drugs just "for fun." Far from being "safer" than illegal street drugs, they can sometimes kill in just one pill.

Be sure to let them in on this simple fact: in many cases there's no difference between a recreational street drug and a prescription drug. For example, hydrocodone, a prescription opiate, is synthetic heroin. It's indistinguishable from any other heroine as far as your brain and body is concerned. So, if you're hooked on hydrocodone, you are in fact a good-old-fashioned heroin addict.

Worse, pain-killing drugs like fentanyl are actually 100 times more potent than natural opioids like morphine, making the addictive potential and side effects associated with prescription drug use much higher. Among the most commonly abused prescription medications, along with their risks, which you can share with your teen, include:

Opioids (Painkillers)

Morphine, codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl all fall into this category. These drugs are not only addictive, they can also lead to slowed breathing and death if too much is taken.


These include drugs such as Ritalin, Concerta and Adderall (the latter of which actually contains amphetamine, known and sold on the street as "speed" or "crank"), which are often used to teat ADHD, narcolepsy and even sometimes depression. Along with being highly addictive, stimulants sometimes lead to feelings of hostility and paranoia, along with risks like irregular heartbeat, heart failure and seizures.

When a stimulant is combined with another medication, such as an over-the-counter cold medicine that contains a decongestant, it can cause dangerously high blood pressure or irregular heart rhythms.


Used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders, medications such as Valium, Xanax, Ambien, and Sonata are also addictive, and cause side effects like confusion, drowsiness and impaired coordination. This can be especially risky among teens if they then get behind the wheel to drive, as it increases the risk of accidents. Further, if these drugs are combined with alcohol or pain medications, the results can be deadly.

Drug Overdose Infographic Preview

>>>> Click Here <<<<<

In the Popular Science infographic above,5 you can see rankings of some of the deadliest drugs in the US, according to data from the CDC. What is striking about this graphic is not only the steady rise in drug-related deaths, but also the fact that close to 60 percent of the drug overdose deaths involve pharmaceutical drugs such as opioids (oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone), anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs – the very same drugs often preferred by teens for a "safer" high.

Politicians Are Worried About Soda … But What About Prescription Drugs?

Soda taxes and other measures to lower soda consumption is a hot topic among politicians. Obviously, helping teens to drink less soda is an admirable and important public health goal, but what about the abuse of prescription drugs? One American dies every 19 minutes from an accidental prescription drug overdose,6 a phenomenon now being described as "the biggest man-made epidemic in the United States."7 Yet, this is a soaring public health epidemic that receives far too little attention from the media and lawmakers alike.

Unfortunately, we're living in an era when the drug industry is praised and revered for their "life-saving" medications, when in reality even their proper use often takes lives unnecessarily. Drugs are known to cause well over 125,000 deaths per year in the US when taken correctly as prescribed – and still the FDA allows fast-track approvals and countless new additions of poorly tested drugs to the marketplace that must later be withdrawn due to their lethal consequences.

This "FDA approval" makes teens believe that taking a few pills here and there is no big deal, and parents add to this flawed belief by often giving medications to their kids when they're not really necessary – a practice that often starts at a very young age.

Nearly Half of Parents Give Cold Meds to Kids When They Shouldn't

In children under the age of 4, common over-the-counter cough and cold medications can lead to allergic reactions, increased heart rate, slow breathing, confusion, hallucinations, drowsiness, sleeplessness, convulsions, nausea and constipation. This is why, since 2008, labels on these drugs state that they're not intended for children under 4. Yet, according to a new survey, the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, more than 40 percent of US parents give these cough and cold medications to their children aged 3 and younger.8

There is a common perception that if you're coughing, sneezing or have a low-grade fever, you must take a medication to get rid of it. In reality, coughing and sneezing are tools your body uses to get rid of viruses and irritants, and fever also helps to kill bacteria and viruses.

So if you take a drug to stop these natural protections, you are actually stopping your body's healing process -- and in the long run it will likely take you even longer to feel better. That, combined with the serious risks these drugs can pose to children, makes a strong case against their use … yet many parents still reach for such medications at the first hint of a sniffle. For kids, this sends the message that drugs are necessary to make you "feel better" – a belief they may keep when they reach their teenage years …

Novartis Drug Company Being Sued for Illegal Kickback Scheme

You probably wouldn't trust that a drug dealer on the street had your best interests at heart … you would assume they're mostly interested in making a profit. But make no mistake – the leading pharmaceutical companies are also among the largest corporate criminals in the world, behaving as if they are little more than white-collar drug dealers.

In one of the most recent examples, the US government sued the drug company Novartis for giving pharmacies discounts and rebates to switch kidney transplant patients from competitors' drugs to their own anti-rejection drug Myfortic. Medicare and Medicaid reportedly paid tens of millions of dollars in reimbursements to the pharmacies as a result of the illegal kickback scheme, which has reportedly been going on since 2005.

This is not an isolated incident, either. A 2010 study analyzed trends in criminal and civil actions against drug companies, and revealed that the drug industry is the biggest defrauder of the federal government under the False Claims Act.9 Despite stiffer financial penalties, criminal activity has increased dramatically in recent years. These white-collar criminals are the same ones behind the supposedly "safe" medications sitting in your medicine cabinet; if they're willing to defraud the federal government, what makes you think they're not willing to defraud you, too?

12 Signs Your Teen May be Abusing Prescription Drugs

Prescription drug abuse often goes unnoticed by parents until it's too late, so be sure to keep a close eye out for the following signs that your teen may be abusing prescription drugs:

Changes in sleeping habits or energy level

Changes in mood or personality

Changes in personal hygiene or appearance

Changes in friends

Loss of appetite

Changes in grades or dedication to schoolwork

Constricted eye pupils ("pinpoint pupils"), which may be a sign of opiate use

Poor decision making

Restlessness or impulsive behavior

Missing medications around your home

Loss of interest in activities, sports, etc.

Sudden weight loss

If you notice these signs or otherwise suspect that your teen may be abusing prescription drugs, talk to them immediately about the dangers and seek professional help if necessary.