Prescription Drug Abuse Rampant Among Teens in the US

Recent data from five states in the US suggests almost one in 10 American adolescents abusing prescription drugs. Further, such individuals are more likely than not to take to risky behaviors and harmful indulgence of a wide variety.

Data presented by Robert F. Weiler, MD, of the University of Florida Gainesville, and colleagues,at the 32nd annual meeting of the American Pain Society (New Orleans), based on a cross-sectional survey of over 4,000 9th to 12th graders, suggest that teens who reportedly used prescription drugs at some point in their lives were 10 times more likely to have carried a weapon at school n the past 30 days. The researchers analyzed responses from 4,178 high school students who completed a modified version of the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS).

The indulgence does not end with drugs:The prescription-drug abusing teens were 17 times more likely to have abused steroids. These adolescents were also 14 times more likely to have consumed heroin, and 11 times more likely to have smoked marijuana. The investigated adjusted their findings for sex, ethnicity, and grade covariates while assessing the independent associations of nonmedical use of prescription drugs and the other risk behaviors.

The results suggest that the deviant youth indulged in other risky health behaviors associated with nonmedical use of prescription drugs, including:
Lifetime cocaine use; driving drunk at school in the past 30 days;binge drinking in the past 30 days; smoking marijuana at school in the past 30 days. The adolsecents who abused prescription drugs were also likely to have indulged in promiscuous sex with more than three sexual partners in the past 3 months.

"Our findings complement the accumulating evidence suggesting that nonmedical use of prescription drugs is linked to a pattern of problem behaviors," the researchers concluded in their poster presentation. "Nonmedical use of prescription pain relievers (NMUPPR) is a salient drug-use behavior among adolescents. Furthermore, it clusters with other activities, suggesting that NMUPPR may be part of a syndrome of risk behaviors. To better inform policy, prevention, and treatment activities, NMUPPR items should become part of the YRBS," the investigators state.

The study also underscores the need to add measures of prescription drug abuse to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), Weiler said, according to a news report online. They're needed in order to develop better -- and sorely needed -- prevention and treatment strategies, he said.

The researchers found that prescription drug abuse was prevalent over a lifetime among 9% of these teens.  Although no noticeable difference in abuse by gender or ethnicity was seen, the researchers found that ninth graders were more likely to have indulged in drug abuse compared to older students.

"A number of associations -- steroid use, illicit drug use in particular -- really jump at you," said Arthur Lipman, PharmD, of the University of Utah Health Sciences in the media interview.

Dr. Lipman observed that teens who abused prescription drugs were about 60% more likely to have been bullied at school.  "That's interesting, as we always think of being bullied as a risk factor for drug abuse," he said.

Nonetheless, it is not a "cause and effect relationship" in that the study was based on the adolescents' self-reports of drug use. In addition, the cross-sectional design of the survey precludes any broad inferences as to causal relationships.

The most significant aspect of the study was that it considered both lifetime and recent and current use of drugs, often overlooked in large surveys, according to Dr. Lipman.

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