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Teen Prescription Drug Abuse: Facts

By Expert Author: Robin Leonardo

Prescription drug abuse among teens has become a major public health issue nationwide. According to Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey funded by National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 21.50 percent of 12th graders in 2013 have abused prescription drugs non-medically in their lifetime. It is also learned that, in the US every day nearly 2,500 teens aged 12 to 17 years abuse a prescription pain reliever for the first time.

Abusing prescription drugs could lead to addiction in teens. Therefore, it is important to learn more about prescription drugs and their harmful effects.

What is prescription drug abuse?

Prescription drug abuse happens when one takes a medication that is not prescribed to him/her. It also includes taking a friend's or family member's prescription, taking a larger dose of a prescription drug or using the medication to get high. The consequences of prescription drug abuse have been steadily worsening with increased treatment admissions, emergency room visits and overdose deaths.

What are the most commonly abused prescription drugs?

The commonly abused prescription drugs include:

Opioids for pain (e.g., OxyContin, Vicodin, Opana, Duragesic)
Central nervous system (CNS) depressants for anxiety and sleep disorders (e.g., Xanax, Valium, Nembutal)
Stimulants for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy (e.g., Concerta, Ritalin, Adderall)

Some medications that can be abused without a prescription are known as over-the-counter drugs. DXM (dextromethorphan), is a cough suppressant used for treating coughing, but it is sometimes abused to get high. It can be dangerous when taken in large doses.

Where do teens get prescription drugs from?

There are many sources from where teens obtain prescription drugs from:

At home from the medicine cabinet as they are easily available.
On the Internet, as prescription drugs are sold online without a doctor's prescription.
From friends or relatives, they may either get it free or steal the drugs when visiting their homes.
From stores or retail chains, where one get prescription drugs like DXM (dextromethorphan) very easily.
At times, they also tend to buy it from a stranger.

What are the risks?

For whatever reasons, the results of prescription drug abuse can be dangerous and can carry serious risks that include:

Abuse of opioids can be very dangerous if taken in higher doses or when combined with alcohol. The short-term effects are drowsiness, nausea, vomiting constipation and slowed breathing. The long-term effects are, it leads to psychological and physical dependence.
Abuse of depressants can lead to depression, lack of coordination, seizures, confusion, exhaustion, irritability and fatigue. Depressants can be life threatening when combined with alcohol or over-the-counter (OTC) medicines.
Abuse of stimulant can cause seizures or tremors, high body temperature, irregular heart rate, hallucinations, cardiovascular system failure and paranoia. When taken in higher doses, with alcohol or OTC medicines, it can be very dangerous.

In addition, abuse of prescription drugs can lead to addiction, sedation, poor judgment, accidents, poor academic performance, legal trouble, suspension from school or college, etc.

Overcoming prescription drug abuse can be challenging and stressful for teens, but with the support of family, schools and organizations, they can come out of it and can lead a happy and healthy life.

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