Legal but Lethal: the Danger of abusing over-the -counter drugs
How Do Kids Get Prescription Drugs?
When popping pills becomes a top priority, people often find new ways to get the drugs they want. Most Americans get their prescriptions filled at local or legitimate online pharmacies, but people who misuse and abuse prescription drugs look for other sources.
How do people get prescription drugs illegally?
Hundreds of online sources sell prescription drugs. Some are legitimate, but others fail to follow the law. For example, some Web sites sell medicine without a doctors prescription. Almost anyone with a computer and a credit card can get a prescription filled online even if they never see a doctor. Just by surfing the Web, teens easily can discover online drug sellers and order medicines they have heard about.
People who are looking for prescription drugs may steal the drugs when visiting the homes of family members and friends. They also may raid the medicine cabinet at home, taking prescriptions that belong to other family members.
Teens may buy another youths prescription medicine. For example, if a student is taking Ritalin®, he may find that his classmates are willing to pay money for his pills.
What to do?
- Learn about the abuse of prescription drugs.
- Look for opportunities to talk with your child about prescription drug abuse and other substance abuse issues. Medication is advertised widely in our society. When you see ads and television shows that suggest there is a pill for every ill, discuss them with your child.
- Store prescription medications in your home in a safe place where your kids or their friends can not find them. Throw out unused and old medication.
- Be aware of your childs online activities. Keep your computer in a room where you can monitor your child as she surfs the Web. Check the history of sites your kids visit on the Internet.
- Monitor credit cards and online accounts for purchases from online pharmacies. If you do not recognize an item on your credit card statement, question it. If your child has his own credit card, review the purchases.
- Check the mail. Make sure that you know exactly what letters and packages are being delivered to your home, especially ones that are sent to your child. Question any unmarked items.
Use of prescription drugs has grown considerably in recent years and so has the misuse and abuse of medications that were designed to help people. Prescription drugs are powerful and should be taken only as directed by a doctor. Monitor your child’s activities to make sure that she is not getting medicines that will harm her.
Turning Remedies Into Risk
Familiar images of adolescent drug abuse include youths sharing a marijuana joint or downing ecstasy pills at a party. Yet, many youths seeking to get high turn to over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, which are legal, but dangerous when abused.
Abuse of OTC drugs often involves the cough suppressant dextromethorphan (DXM) with thousands of young people suffering dangerous side effects. While some youths go no further than the family medicine cabinet to obtain DXM, others may seek the drug from dealers who package it in a more dangerous form and sell it illegally. Parents should understand the risks of using DXM for nonmedical reasons and should be alert to signs of abuse.
Abuse of DXM among youths is common and shows no sign of declining. A national survey of students in grades 7 through 12 showed that ten percent, or 1 in 10, used cough medicine to get high in 2005. This rate was about the same as in 2004 when nine percent of youths in these grades reported abusing cough medicine.1
The same survey found that less than half of 7th to 12th graders thought that taking cough medicine to get high was risky. This attitude is alarming because youths who think that a drug will put them at risk are less likely to use it.2
How DXM makes people feel depends on how much of the drug they take. Low doses may act as a mild stimulant and distort vision, while high doses can produce hallucinations, out-of-body feelings, dizziness, and loss of control of ones body movements. Other side effects include nausea and rapid heartbeat.3
The effects of DXM can be more severe when a person takes additional substances used to treat coughs and colds. These substances include acetaminophen, pseudophedrine, antihistamines, and expectorants.4
The side effects of DXM send thousands of people to hospital emergency departments (EDs) each year. Nonmedical use of DXM accounted for nearly 5,600 of about 12,600 DXM-related ED visits recorded in 2004. Nearly half of these visits for nonmedical use were by young people aged 12 to 20. Other ED visits related to DXM were due to people taking the drug accidentally, attempting suicide, or having a bad reaction to the drug when taking it for medical reasons.5
While abuse of DXM in OTC cough and cold remedies is not new, pure DXM in powdered form has become available on the Internet and is sold illegally.6 Dealers obtain DXM in bulk amounts and put it into capsules for sale. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning about this trend after the deaths of five teenagers who took powdered DXM that was sold in capsules.7
Legal does not mean safe. Over-the-counter drugs can harm, and even kill, those who take them in high doses and for nonmedical reasons. Therefore, parents should keep track of cough and cold remedies in the home, question their kids use of them, be aware that DXM is marketed on the Internet and sold as a street drug, and watch for signs of abuse. Parents should use similar care in monitoring the storage and use of the many legal products that some youths inhale to get high.
Prescription Drug Abuse Outnumbers New Marijuana Users
A new report released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that the misuse of prescription drugs is second only to marijuana as the nation´s most prevalent drug problem, and the annual average number of people using pain relievers non-medically for the first time exceeds the number of new marijuana users. The study also shed light on where most young people are obtaining their drugs, indicating that friends and family are the number one source for these drugs, not the Internet as previously believed.
The report, Misuse of Prescription Drugs: Data from the 2002, 2003 and 2004 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, covers four broad classes of prescription psychotherapeutics including pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives—and the specific drugs OxyContin (a pain reliever) and methamphetamine (a stimulant).
The report shows that among specific age groups, young adults aged 18 to 25 tended to have the highest rates of nonmedical use in the past year, followed by youths 12 to 17. Pain relievers, for example, were used nonmedically in the past year by 11.8 percent of young adults compared to 7.5 percent of youths and 3.1 percent of adults aged 26 or older. Among adults aged 18 or older, the risk of dependence or abuse for psychotherapeutics was greater for persons who initiated nonmedical use before age 16 compared with those who initiated use at age 16 or older.
“While marijuana continues to be the most commonly used illicit drug, the misuse of prescription drugs is clearly a growing national concern that requires action from multiple segments of our society”, said Assistant Surgeon General Eric Broderick, D.D.S., M.P.H., SAMHSA Acting Deputy Administrator. “We know that 70 to 80 percent of those 12 years or older said they got their drugs from a friend or relative and, very likely, those came from the family medicine cabinet. Only 4.3 percent got the pain relievers from a drug dealer or other stranger and only 0.8 percent reported buying the drug on the Internet. Parents and other caregivers should store their prescription drugs carefully and dispose of any unused drugs before they can fall into the wrong hands”.
Based on combined data from the 2002 through 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual average of 2.7 million persons aged 12 or older first misused any prescription psychotherapeutic drug in the past year while an annual average of 2.1 million people 12 years or older started using marijuana. An annual average of 11.3 million persons aged 12 or older were using prescription pain relievers nonmedically in the past year compared with an annual average of 25.5 million past-year users of marijuana. This includes new users and users who had started more than 12 months previously.
Additionally, the report found that among persons aged 12 or older, nonmedical use of pain relievers in the hydrocodone category (e.g., Vicodin) anytime in the individuals lives increased from 5.9 percent in 2002 to 7.4 percent in 2004, and use of medications in the oxycodone category (e.g., Percocet or OxyContin) increased from 4.3 percent to 5.0 percent over that period.
Males generally had higher rates than females for misuse of pain relievers, stimulants and methamphetamine among the overall population aged 12 or older. Among youths aged 12 to 17, however, the rates of nonmedical use in the past year were higher among females than males for any prescription psychotherapeutic drug (9.9 percent for females versus 8.2 percent for males), pain relievers (8.1 percent for females versus 7.0 percent for males), tranquilizers (2.6 percent for females versus 1.9 percent for males), and stimulants (2.6 percent for females versus 1.9 percent for males.
Almost 2 million people aged 12 or older met criteria for past-year dependence or abuse of prescription drugs, including 1.4 million people for pain relievers, 573,000 for tranquilizers, 470,000 for stimulants, and 128,000 for sedatives. Only 12.5 percent of those with a prescription drug use disorders in the past year received specialty treatment for drug problems in that period. Specialty treatment includes treatment at a hospital (inpatient), a rehabilitation facility (inpatient or outpatient), or a mental health center.
PARTNERSHIP FOR A DRUG-FREE AMERICA STUDY SHOWS TEEN ABUSE OF Rx DRUGS BECOMES ‘ENTRENCHED’
NEW YORK — Teen smoking and drinking continues to drop, but teenage abuse of prescription drugs has become “an entrenched behavior” that many parents fail to recognize, a survey released May 16, 2006 showed.
For a third straight year, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America study showed that about 1 in 5 teens have tried prescription drug painkillers such as Vicodin or OxyContin to get high; about 4.5 million teens. It also indicated that many teens feel experimenting with prescription drugs is safer than illegal highs.
Forty percent said prescription medicines were “much safer” than illegal drugs, while 31 percent said there was “nothing wrong” with using prescription drugs “once in a while”. The study further found that 29 percent of teens believe prescription pain relievers are non-addictive.
“It’s really a case now of accepting the fact that it’s here,” Partnership President and CEO Steve Pasierb said. “Clearly, this is a true problem in American society”.
Although this was the group’s 18th annual survey, it marked only the third year of compiling figures on the abuse of legal drugs. In 2003, the study found 20 percent of teens had tried the prescription drugs Vicodin, OxyContin and Tylox. Over the next two years, the numbers remained fairly consistent.
Pasierb said it was a good sign that the prescription drug numbers had not increased, but warned parents that the source of drugs is now the family medicine cabinet more than any dealer. The study found 62 percent of teens said prescription pain relievers are easy to find at home. And 52 percent say prescription pain relievers are “available everywhere.”
“That’s why we’re putting a lot of our attending on educating parents,” Pasierb said. “They don’t have a frame of reference in a lot of cases. This kind of behavior (prescription drug abuse) didn’t exist when they were teens.”
A study by the University of Michigan, released in December, also indicated that American teens were smoking less and using prescription drugs more. It found 1 in 10 high school seniors had experimented with prescription painkillers.
The Partnership survey put teen smoking at 22 percent, down from 23 percent last year and 42 percent in 1998. The number of teens drinking in the past 30 days was down from 33 percent last year to 31 percent; in 1998, the figure was 42 percent.
The 2005 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study surveyed more than 7,300 teens in grades 7 through 12, the largest ongoing analysis of teen drug-related attitudes toward drugs in the country. Its margin of error was plus or minus 1.5 percentage points.
The nonprofit Partnership for a Drug-Free America was launched in 1987.