Leader Blues

Friday, September 26, 2008

TOP STORY > >Teen prescription drug abuse starts at home

By NANCY DOCKTER
Leader staff writer

Editors note: This is part one in a series on teen abuse of prescription drugs, and what parents and communities can do to curb the epidemic.

Parents concerned about their teen getting high may lock up the liquor, but then forget the medicine cabinet, an easy source of the popular drugs shared, sold and abused by teens.

Prescription drugs have become the second-most-abused illegal substance among U.S. youth, after marijuana. As many as one in five teens have abused prescription drugs at some point in their lives, according to national studies.

One such study – the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) – found that Arkansas teens and young adults lead the nation in abuse of prescription pain relievers. The same study found that Arkansas also leads the nation in the percentage of teenagers needing but not receiving treatment for illicit drug-use problems.

Ten percent of Arkansas teens ages 12 to 17 reported using prescription pain relievers for non-medical use in the past year; for young adults, ages 18 to 25, the rate was even higher – 17 percent, according to the most recent NSDUH survey, conducted in 2005-06. The national rates are 7 percent for 12 to 17 year olds and 12 percent for 18- to 25-year-olds.

The federally funded NSDUH has been keeping tabs on Americans’ use and abuse of harmful substances – tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs – since 1971 with its annual, door-to-door survey. To protect the privacy of interviewees, participants key in their responses to sensitive questions about substance abuse on a hand-held computer device.

The drugs most commonly abused by teens are pain relievers, followed by tranquilizers, sedatives, and stimulants as well as over-the-counter and prescription cough medicines, according to a report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.

So why are so many young people using these drugs? Stress relief is one reason. Teens get high for the same reasons adults do: It feels good, better than the sometimes tough reality they must deal with at home, school, and on the job. Teens say that they are seeking a way to “manage their lives” or “tone down” the stress associated with family life, friendships, romantic relationships, academic pressures, competition for honors in the classroom and playing field, and the pursuit of the “perfect” physical image. And, then there is peer pressure, a perennial driver behind why kids do what they do, including abusing drugs.

Rena Kinney, who graduated from home school in 2007 after attending Jacksonville High in her senior year, remembers “a lot of kids popped pills, because everyone wants to be cool.” She was quick to name off the drugs of choice among kids – “and some adults too”: the anxiety reducer Xanax, the pain reliever Vicodin, and Ritalin, widely prescribed to manage attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). For those without an attention-deficit problem, taking Ritalin or similar drugs induces a high, so “a lot of kids do Ritalin; a lot of people were running around selling it,” Kinney recalled.

In Cabot, “schools are dealing primarily with hydrocodone, oxycodone, all types of muscle relaxers, codeine from different types of cough syrups, and Xanax,” according to Tony Thurman, superintendent of Cabot public schools.

But for the kid who experiments with prescription drugs, all the blame can’t be placed on his or her peer group.

Adults too are using – and abusing – these drugs in record numbers, which is why they are in the family medicine chest in the first place. It can safely be said that the United States is a medicated society, increasingly looking for a quick fix for its ills.

The number of Americans with at least one prescription annually rose about 70 percent from 2000 to 2006, according to a study by pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts. The number of prescriptions filled per person each year increased from 11 to 14 – a 32 percent jump, the study found. Although most of increase was for drugs to treat obesity-related disorders such as diabetes and high blood pressure, the study also reported a 33 increase in prescriptions for anti-depressants.

In recent years, the abuse of prescription drugs has also increased dramatically.

According to a 2004 report of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, “from 1992 to 2003, abuse of controlled prescription drugs grew at a rate twice that of marijuana abuse; five times that of cocaine abuse; 60 times that of heroin abuse,” prompting Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA’s chairperson and president and former U.S. Secretary of Health, to declare: “Our nation is in the throes of an epidemic of controlled prescription drug abuse and addiction.”
In regard to teens’ abuse of prescription drugs, the CASA report noted, “The explosion in the prescription of addictive opioids (painkillers), depressants and stimulants has, for many children, made their parents’ medicine cabinet a greater temptation and threat than the illegal street drug dealer.”

School superintendent Thur-man concurs that the home is the prime source of the drugs that kids are abusing.

“We have dealt with more situations in which students would target other students and befriend them for the sole purpose of gaining access to their home and medicine cabinet. It is crucial that parents keep a close watch on who their child is visiting and who is allowed into their home. All prescription medications must be locked in a secure location.”

Fraudulent prescriptions, theft from pharmacies, doctor and dentist “shopping,” unethical health practitioners, and online sales are also means by which teens or dealers illegally obtain prescription drugs.

A 2008 study by CASA reports that teens now say that prescription drugs such as the painkillers OxyContin, Perocet, Vicodin, and Ritalin are easier to buy than beer. Jessica Hale of Jacksonville has been out of high school for a few years, but recalls that drugs prescribed for ADHD, such as Ritalin and Adderall, were popular drugs of choice among abusers.

A lot of kids that are supposed to take Adderall don’t like it, Hale contends, so they “make money selling it; that puts it in a lot more kids’ hands.” Of the abuse of prescription drugs in general, she observed, “It seems like a lot more would be doing it if they had the money. I knew a lot of kids even in junior high. I was surprised at how early it was happening. She recalled going to a party in seventh grade, “at a rich family’s home. Kids were getting into the liquor cabinet. They’d allow alcohol and marijuana.”