Years prescription drug abuse by teens. “The behavior,

Years ago, the common image of an adolescent drug abuser was a teen trying to escape from reality on illegal substances like cocaine, heroin, or marijuana. Today, there is a great discrepancy between that perception and the reality of who is likely to abuse drugs. A teenage drug abuser might not have to look any further than his or her parent’s medicine chest to ‘score.’ Prescription drug abuse by teens is on the rise. Also, teens are looking to prescription drugs to fulfill different needs other than to feel good or escape the pressures of adulthood. Teens may be just as likely to resort to drugs with ‘speedy’ side effects, like Ritalin to help them study longer, as they are to use prescription painkillers to check out of reality. Pressures on teens are growing, to succeed in sports or to get high grades to get into a good college (Pressures on today’s teens, 2008, theantidrug). Furthermore, because prescriptions drugs are prescribed by doctors they are less likely to be seen as deleterious to teens’ health. A lack of awareness of the problem on the part of teens, parents and society in general, the over-medication of America, and the greater stresses and pressures put upon teens in the modern world have all conspired to create the growing problem of prescription drug abuse by teens. “The behavior, drug abuse prevention experts say, is notably different from the use of drugs like marijuana or cocaine…The goal for many young adults is not to get high but to feel better – less depressed, less stressed out, more focused, better rested. It is just that the easiest route to that end often seems to be medication for which they do not have a prescription” (Harmon 2005, p.1) According to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America in a self-reported study, 1 in 5 teens have abused a prescription pain medication, 1 in 5 report abusing prescription stimulants and tranquilizers, and 1 in 10 has abused cough medication, and that may be only the ‘tip of the ice berg’ in highlighting this problem (Prescription drug abuse: A serious problem, 2008, Partnership for a Drug-Free America). Steroid abuse by teen athletes and abuse of performance-enhancing supplements like creatine is also on the rise (Performance-enhancing drugs and your teen athlete, 2008, The Mayo Clinic). Although some teens may feel jaded and certain that they know ‘drugs are bad,’ and drugs fry your brain like the famous fried egg in a pan in the popular television commercial immortalized during the 1980s, many well-educated teens and young adults do not see the same risks inherent in prescription drugs or drugs that make them feel better or run faster (The Partnership’s fried egg message, 2008, Partnership for a Drug-Free America). “For a sizable group of people in their 20’s and 30’s, deciding on their own what drugs to take – in particular, stimulants, antidepressants and other psychiatric medications – is becoming the norm. Confident of their abilities and often skeptical of psychiatrists’ expertise, they choose to rely on their own research and each other’s experience in treating problems like depression, fatigue, anxiety or a lack of concentration. A medical degree, in their view, is useful, but not essential, and certainly not sufficient,” reports the New York Times, citing incidents of young adults taking Ritalin to stay our partying all night—or pressured students popping the pill to study into the wee hours (Harmon 2005, p.1). Pharmaceuticals have become such a ubiquitous part of the American landscape, self-medicating just to feel ‘normal’ is assumed to be necessary. “Katherine gave the tranquilizer Ativan to another friend who complained of feeling short of breath and panicky…’I acquire quite a few medications and then dispense them to my friends as needed. I usually know what I’m talking about,'” said Katherine cheerfully to a reporter, unable to see that her behavior was any different than someone self-medicating with marijuana or another drug (Harmon 2005, p.1). And not unlike a classic illegal drug user or abuser, Katherine was unwilling to acknowledge the potential risks of such behavior, despite the fact that she had experienced negative drug interactions. When drugs are circulated in small batches, often without the original packaging, “information about risks and dosage are not included. Even careful self-medicators, they say, may not realize the harmful interaction that drugs can have when used together or may react unpredictably to a drug” (Harmon 2005, p.1). Also, developing teen brains may not be able to handle the side effects of antidepressants as well as adult brains, and developing teen bodies may suffer more physical harm from drug interactionsTeens are not all to blame—the use of medications to treat every minor infection, from erectile dysfunction to toenail fungus exploded during the 1990s. “Direct-to-consumer drug advertising, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1997, has for most of their adult lives sent the message that pills offer a cure for any ill. Which ones to take, many advertisements suggest, is largely a matter of personal choice” (Harmon 2005, p.1). In short, the FDA, rather than curtailing the problem, may have only contributed to it by empowering the pharmaceutical industry to advertise to consumers. However, this makes prescription drug abuse even more dangerous, since so many individuals are on minor medications for one disorder or another. This has made the potential risks of negative drug interactions escalate exponentially (Your brain’s response to drugs, 2008, Teen Growth). Ironically, the inability of many doctors to find the pill to ‘perfectly’ treat a patient’s illness has not increased faith in doctors, only medication, as self-prescribers insist that they know better than doctors what suits their particular medical needs. One woman, an admitted self-prescriber of anti-depressants such as Paxil and Prozac to herself “could recite the pros and cons of every selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor on the market …years of watching doctors try to find the right drug cocktails for her and for assorted friends has not bolstered faith in their expertise…lots of doctors don’t know what they’re talking about she insisted” (Harmon 2005, p.2). Furthermore, the over-prescription of drugs leads to self-medication simply by generation more drugs into the circulation and hands of people who may only use one or two pills from a prescription: “prescriptions to treat attention deficit disorder in adults age 20 to 30 nearly tripled from 2000 to 2004” (Harmon, 2005,p.2)The National Survey on Drug Use and Health has identified four categories of the most commonly abused prescription medications: pain relievers, stimulants, sedatives and tranquilizers. Eleven percent of teens have used painkillers and stimulants that were not prescribed for their use (Prescription drug abuse: A serious problem, 2008, Partnership for a Drug-Free America). Younger teens are more apt to use prescription medication taken from their parents, such as painkillers, often with alcohol or cough medication for what might be called the more ‘conventional’ or expected motivations to abuse drugs, namely to dissociate from reality. Older teens prefer stimulants to study or party longer and performance-enhancing substances. Interestingly, “girls are more likely to be current (past month) abusers of prescription medications than boys (4.3 vs. 3.6 percent),” although why this is the case is uncertain—whether it is due to the greater pressures young women find themselves under, or the fact that boys may be more apt to use conventional means of getting high (Prescription drug abuse: A serious problem, 2008, Partnership for a Drug-Free America). Education and awareness is the obvious solution. But other, more painful steps must be taken. As a society, we have grown too dependant upon pharmaceuticals as a quick fix solution for all of our ills. Yes, drugs are necessary sometimes. But self-prescribing medications, or demanding medications because they have been advertised on television is a problem that must be addressed, if teen abuse of prescription medication is to be curtailed. Eliminating direct-to-consumer drug advertising, educating teens about ways to relieve stress other than drugs, and reducing the pressures on teens in general are all required if we are to ‘detoxify’ as a society and rebuild the bodies and minds of our future leaders.

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