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Generation RX

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Most parents know to be concerned about cigarettes and alcohol. But these days, kids have found another way to get high -- painkillers and other prescription drugs are being abused at record levels.

teen holding prescription drugs

Dr. Alanna Levine: Second only to marijuana, prescription medications are the most common drugs teenagers use to get high. In fact, nearly 1 in 5 teenagers reports having used a prescription medication that was not prescribed to them at least once in their lifetime. A review of the National Poison Center data from 1995-2008, published in the August issue of Pediatrics, found a significant increase in calls regarding the abuse of medications used to treat Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), specifically amphetamines (Adderall and Vyvanse) and methylphenidates (Ritalin).

ADHD affects roughly 8-12% of children worldwide, and recently the numbers have been rising. The more adolescents treated for ADHD, the greater the access teens have to ADHD medications, and the greater the potential for abuse. This does not just apply to those adolescents who obtain pills illegally from their friends or otherwise; studies have found that many adolescents who are prescribed the medications by a doctor may ultimately end up abusing them.

The main reason teens abuse ADHD medication is because it improves their ability to focus and stay awake and alert while studying. Some also use it to suppress their appetite, a side effect of these medications. This can contribute to other psychological disorders like anorexia.

It is important to note that drugs like Adderall and Ritalin are very safe and effective when used properly. They do, however, require medical evaluation prior to starting them, and frequent monitoring. This is why they fall into the category of controlled substances, and pharmacists can only dispense a 30-day supply at a time.

What should parents know?
1. Be aware of the increasing incidence of abuse.
2. Talk to your teens about the risk of sharing medications.
3. Be aware of how many pills are in the bottle, and monitor frequently.
4. Be wary of physicians who simply refill prescriptions without a proper evaluation.
5. Know the number for Poison Control (in the U.S., (800) 222-1222) in case of an emergency.

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