Teen abuse of prescription opioid drugs decreased in 2014, according to the ongoing Monitoring the Future (MTF) study conducted by the University of Michigan. However, abuse of other kinds of prescription drugs remained at the same levels as previous years. These results are encouraging but also show that the problem of teenage abuse of prescription drugs, as well as the larger prescription drug abuse epidemic, is far from over.
The MTF study involves an annual survey of eighth, 10th and 12th grade students that measures teenage use of alcohol and drugs, as well as their attitudes toward various forms of substance use. 41,551 students from 377 junior high and high schools participated in the 2014 edition of the survey. Funding for the MTF study is provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Prescription Narcotic Abuse Declines
The study found that teenage abuse of opioid painkillers such as Vicodin and oxycodone was at 6.1 percent, down from 7.1 percent in 2013 and a high of 9.5 percent in 2004. Vicodin in particular has had a significant five-year decline in abuse, from 9.5 percent of teens in 2009 to only 4.8 percent in 2014.
It is also notable that heroin was the only narcotic drug that did not show a decrease in use among teenagers in 2014. Experts believe that a rise in heroin use throughout the general population in recent years is connected to the prescription drug epidemic. After becoming addicted to prescription narcotics, many people are switching to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to acquire.
Abuse Of DXM Cough Medicines Also Falls
Another decline from 2013 was seen in teenage use of cough and cold medicines containing the drug dextromethorphan, or DXM. Approximately 2 percent of teens used cough medicine for non-medical purposes in 2014, compared to 3.8 percent in 2013. When taken in large doses, cough medicines containing DXM can be used to achieve a high that often involves hallucinogenic trips. DXM is available in many over-the-counter medicines, although its potential for abuse means that some states have restricted purchase of DXM medicines to people aged 18 and older.
Adderall Abuse Remains Steady
The news was not quite as good when it came to stimulant medications used to treat ADHD, like Adderall. These drugs continue to be used both recreationally and to boost academic or athletic performance. The MTF study found that the number of high school seniors abusing Adderall remained essentially the same from 2013 to 2014—6.8 percent.
The study also revealed where most teenagers acquire the stimulants that they abuse. Interestingly, the results showed that teenagers are much more likely to abuse prescription drugs that they get from other people. Most teenagers who abuse these medications are getting them from friends or family rather than abusing drugs that have been prescribed for them.
This may be some comfort to parents who are worried about acquiring Adderall or another drug to treat their teenagers’ ADHD, since it appears that teenagers who have a genuine medical need for these drugs are less likely to use them improperly. However, it may also be a warning to parents who have never considered the possibility that their children might be abusing prescription drugs because they do not have direct access to them.
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