Facts on teen prescription drug abuse:
· Everyday 2,500 teens, ages 12-17, abuse a pain reliever for the first time.
· More teens abuse prescription drugs than any other illicit drug except marijuana.
· In 2008, more the 2.1 million teens ages 12-17 reported abusing prescription drugs.
· Among 12 and 13 year olds, prescription drugs are the number one drug of choice.
Why do teens turn to prescription drugs?
There are many reasons teens abuse prescription drugs, such as:
· Simply looking for a high
· To help them cope, manage stress, depression, or anxiety, or to help them relax
· To deal with pressure, such as abusing stimulants to keep up with a hectic school and extra-curricular schedule
· As a way to self-medicate, such as relieving pain and helping them to sleep better
· A feeling that there is less shame in abusing prescription rather than illicit drugs, as well as a feeling that parents and authority figures will be more tolerant of the abuse of prescription rather than illicit drugs.
A common misconception causes trouble for teens
Because these drugs are readily available, and there are circumstances that these drugs are prescribed with the aim of helping people, too many teens believe that prescription drugs provide a “safe” way to get high. Teens who might never touch illicit drugs are often more willing to try prescription drugs – often unaware that abusing prescription drugs and taking any kind of prescription medication comes with its own set of dangers.
What types of prescription drugs are more often abused by teens?
Painkillers, depressants, stimulants, and steroids are the prescription drugs most often abused by adolescents. But there are dangers involved:
· A single large dose of over-the-counter painkillers or depressants can cause breathing difficulty that can lead to death.
· Stimulant abuse can lead to hostility and paranoia, and has the potential for heart system failure and fatal seizures.
· Small doses of depressants and painkillers can affect motor skills, judgment and the ability to learn.
· Mixing prescription drugs, OTC (over-the-counter) drugs, and alcohol can cause respiratory failure and death.
· What do they treat? Painkillers are drugs commonly prescribed for pain and are only legally available by prescription.
· Short-term effects: lack of energy, drowsiness, inability to concentrate, nausea and vomiting, constipation, apathy, and respiratory depression.
· Danger level: Painkiller abuse can be dangerous, even deadly, with too high a dose or when combined with other substances, such as alcohol. Significant doses of painkillers can cause breathing problems.
· Painkiller overdose: Physical signs include pinpoint pupils, cold and clammy skin, confusion, convulsions, severe drowsiness, and slow or troubled breathing.
· Addictive level: When abused, these meds can be addictive. This means more of the drug is needed with time to achieve the same effects, increasing the risk for overdose. Teens who become addicted to painkillers will usually experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop the drugs.
Painkillers, such as OxyContin and Vicodin, are the prescription drugs most commonly abused by teens.
· What do they treat? Depressants (also referred to as downers, sedatives and tranquilizers) can be used to treat anxiety and panic attacks, tension, severe stress reactions, and sleep disorders.
· Health risks: loss of coordination, respiratory depression, dizziness due to low blood pressure, slurred speech, poor concentration.
· Danger level: In extreme cases, coma and death can occur.
· What do they treat? Stimulants are most often prescribed to treat ADD and ADHD. They can also be used for asthma, respiratory problems, obesity, and sleep disorders such as narcolepsy.
· Health risks: Increased heart and respiratory rates, excessive sweating, vomiting, tremors, anxiety, and hostility and aggression.
· Danger level: In severe abuse, suicidal and homicidal tendencies can occur, as well as convulsions and cardiovascular collapse.
· What do they treat: Steroids are used medically to treat people with abnormally low testosterone levels or symptoms of body wasting, such as with cancer patients.
· Health risks: Liver cysts and cancer, kidney cancer, jaundice, severe acne, hair loss and premature balding, sterility, damage to the cardiovascular system and liver, increased risk of injury, increased levels of cholesterol causing a thickening of arterial walls that could ultimately be life threatening. Mood swings from depression to aggressiveness can also occur.
· Male health risks: Males may experience shrunken testicles, difficulty or pain in urinating, become infertile or impotent, develop breasts, and have increased risk for prostate cancer.
· Female health risks: Girls can experience an excessive growth of body and facial hair, male-pattern baldness, decreased body fat and breast size, changes in or cessation of the menstrual cycle, and a deepened voice.
· Steroid withdrawal: When steroid abusers stop the drugs, they can experience feelings of depression, which can result in dependence. Users may also suffer from paranoid jealousy, extreme irritability, delusions, and impaired judgment stemming from feelings of invincibility.
Steroid abuse is particularly problematic for teens since adding more testosterone to their growing bodies can throw off hormonal balances essential for health growth and development.
Steroids are often taken by injection, so there is an increased risk for transmitting HIV and/or hepatitis infection from an unsterile needle or syringe.
Prescription drug abuse is a serious, and continually growing, problem for adolescents. It is important for teens to be well-educated about the risks and dangers associated with prescription drug abuse so they can make decisions that will keep them physically and emotionally healthy.
If you are currently abusing prescription medications, please seek out help for yourself as soon as possible. Tell your parents/guardians about the drug abuse, meet with primary care physician so that your medical health can be assessed, and get yourself into substance abuse treatment that is appropriate for teens.
If you don't have a doctor and live in northern New Jersey, you can call the Adolescent/Young Adult Center for Health at 973-971-6475 for an appointment or contact your local teen health center. You can also contact your insurance company for a list of in-network providers.
If you live in northern New Jersey and need help finding a therapist you can call the Access Center from Atlantic Behavioral Health at 973-247-1400. Outside of this area you can log onto the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website for referrals in your area. You can also contact your insurance company to get a list of in-network mental health providers or check with your school social worker or psychologist to get a list of referrals in your area.