For decades, drug abuse among teenagers has been a widespread and persistent problem in America. While teen drug abuse is by no means a new phenomenon, the methods and substances that today’s teenagers are using to get high are giving rise to new and dangerous trends.
The Partnership for a Drug-Free America
Among these are the illicit use of prescription and over-the-counter medications like painkillers, stimulants and depressants. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America reports some alarming statistics concerning these medications, including:
• One in five teens has tried Vicodin, a narcotic pain-reliever, to get high.
• One in ten teens has used stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall to get high.
• One in eleven teens has admitted to getting high on cough medicine.
Accessibility of Drugs to Teenagers
The problem is due in large part to the easy accessibility of these drugs to teenagers. Many painkillers like Percocet or depressants like Xanax can be found in a parent’s medicine cabinet. Teens are even reporting that they can easily “fake” symptoms of ADD to family doctors to obtain a prescription for stimulants like Ritalin.
However, for the teenager looking to get a hold of prescription drugs, they need look no further than the World Wide Web. Not only does the Internet offer teens loads of information about how to get and abuse prescription drugs; simply entering “Xanax no prescription” into a Google search will deliver a multitude of web sites selling prescription drugs with no need for a prescription to any buyer. The drugs are then delivered to your home in an unmarked package. Whatever the method, teenagers are turning to these drugs under the misconception that they are a safer alternative to street drugs.
A survey by the Partnership for a Drug Free America found that 2 in 5 teens agree that prescription medications, even if they are not prescribed by a doctor, are “much safer” to use than illegal drugs. Nothing could be further from the truth and the careless manner in which teens are abusing these drugs is leaving a trail of addiction and death in America’s high schools and universities.
Prescription painkillers are popular with teens because of the euphoric effects they produce. Some popular examples of prescription painkillers include drugs like Vicodin, Percocet, Roxicodone and Oxycontin. Slang names for these drugs include “Vics,” “Percs,” “Roxies,” “Berries,” “Oxy” and “O.C.” They are used to treat moderate to severe pain and are a staple of most American medicine cabinets.
A sprained ankle or pulled wisdom tooth can also land a teenager with a prescription for drugs like Vicodin. These drugs, which belong to a class known as opiate narcotics, are highly addictive, extremely dangerous and potentially fatal. After only a short period of use, the brain will begin to develop a tolerance to these drugs, and larger doses will be needed to achieve the same effects. Once tolerance has developed, the user will experience harrowing withdrawal symptoms if use is discontinued.
These symptoms include agitation, anxiety, tremors, muscle aches, hot and cold flashes, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Unfortunately, the high risk of dependency is not acknowledged by many teens until it is too late.
The Partnership for a Drug Free America survey found that 30% of teens do not believe that prescription painkillers are addictive. They may be under this false impression as many choose only to experiment with these drugs occasionally, using them as “party drugs.” Although the risk of dependency is lowered with occasional use, the practice is equally as dangerous. Taking a large dose of opiate painkillers when a tolerance has not been established can easily lead to overdose.
The risk is compounded when users tamper with the pills, crushing and snorting or injecting them to boost the rush of euphoria. Using prescription painkillers in this manner can cause shallow breathing, hypotension, circulatory collapse, respiratory arrest and death. The Center for Disease Control reports that prescription drug overdose is second only to motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Common signs that someone you know may be addicted to or abusing prescription painkillers include:
• Isolation from family/friends
• Mood swings
• Stealing, lying or dishonest behavior
• Extreme sleepiness or tendency to “nod out”
• Constant itching, rash or hives
• Nausea and vomiting
• Difficulty remaining focused
• Presence of withdrawal symptoms associated with discontinued use