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Terrifying Facts About Teenage Prescription Drug Abuse

True or false: You would be less upset if you caught your teen using prescription drugs than you would be if you caught them with “street drugs.”

Whether or not it’s personally true for you, 23 percent of teens claim it’s true for their parents. The false belief that these drugs are safer is even more prevalent among teens themselves. Over 50 percent believe that prescription drugs are much safer than illegal drugs.

Here’s a fact: Abuse of any drug is dangerous and has the potential to kill. And the laid-back attitude that has apparently taken root about prescription drugs has likely contributed to the epidemic-level growth of their abuse.

Here’s another fact for you: Between 1999 and 2012, the death rate involving prescription painkillers more than tripled.

An Explosive Trend

Here we are in 2016 and the prescription drug numbers have reached staggering proportions.

Every day in the U.S., an estimated 2,500 kids between the ages of 12 and 17 abuse a prescription pain reliever for the first time. In fact, teens are more likely to have abused prescription drugs than illegal street drugs. If you take solace in this fact (and you answered ‘True’ to the opening statement), you might want to consider the following facts.

Teens who abuse prescription drugs are:

  • 2x more likely to use alcohol
  • 5x more likely to use marijuana
  • 12 to 20x more likely to use illegal street drugs such as heroin, Ecstasy and cocaine

Experts report that teens who become addicted to pain pills tend to progress to heroin use when pills grow hard to come by. They say the rise in heroin use (a 75 percent increase from 2007 to 2011 and an 80 percent increase in first-time use among 12 to 170-year-olds since 2002) is directly linked to this trend of progression.

Not great news, huh? Brace yourself for more sobering stats. In case you’re wondering how teens get started on this deadly road…

The Hand’s No Longer in a Cookie Jar

Guess where a majority of teens start their lethal prescription drug habits? Not in a dark alley downtown. Not through a shady deal under the bleachers. Not at a wild senior party. Nope. It’s at home…in your medicine cabinet.

Between 60 and 70 percent of teens report that home medicine cabinets are their source for drugs or that they are given prescription drugs by a friend or relative – for free. With such easy access, it’s not surprising to hear that nearly a fourth of teens polled in 2012 admitted to abusing a prescription drug at least once in their lifetime. By the way, that number is up 33 percent since 2008.

What exactly are they getting their hands on? Three types of prescription drugs are most commonly abused by teens.

  • Opioids: This family of drugs includes painkillers such as Vicodin, OxyContin and Codeine. The latest stats show that 74 percent of deaths from prescription drug abuse involve opioid painkillers.
  • Depressants: These drugs are prescribed to treat anxiety or sleep disorders. They include brand names like Xanax and Valium.
  • Stimulants: These are typically used for treatment of ADHD and include Adderall and Ritalin.


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