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Generation Rx

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Dr. Alanna Levine: 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

Second only to marijuana, prescription medications are now the most common drugs teenagers use to get high. In fact, nearly one in five teenagers reports having used a prescription medication that was not prescribed to him or her at least once. A review of the National Poison Center data from 1995 to 2008, published in Pediatrics, reveals a significant increase in calls regarding the abuse of medications used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) -- specifically, amphetamines (Adderall and Vyvanse) and methylphenidates (Ritalin).

ADHD affects roughly 8 to 12 percent 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 doesn't just apply to those adolescents who obtain pills illegally from their friends or others, either: Studies have found that many adolescents who are legitimately prescribed the medications ultimately end up abusing the drugs themselves. 

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

It's 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 -- not to mention frequent monitoring. This is why they fall into the category of "controlled substances," and why 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 refill prescriptions without a proper evaluation.
5) In case of emergency, know the number for Poison Control (in the U.S., it's 800-222-1222).

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2 comments so far | Post a comment now
Rebecca Janes, LMHC August 25, 2010, 11:40 AM

I am a Licensed Mental Health Counselor- I have written a book , “Generation RX, Kids on Pills, A Parent’s guide” on this subject- It is a very real concern.

Berenice October 12, 2010, 8:54 AM

I have a lot of concerns with this, because I know of kids that have been diagnosed with ADHD and it is a mistake in diagnosis, and end up abusing their prescription drugs. even combining them with what ever the counter has, aspirins, Kamagra Gel, cough syrup…

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