Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Researchers from the University of Colorado at Denver recently discovered that young people in the U.S. are abusing prescription pain medications at an alarming rate — 40 percent more than past generations to be exact.
Many of the adolescents have been using prescription drugs such as oxycontin, valium and vicodin. Following marijuana, prescription drug abuse is the second leading form of illegal drug use in the country. The findings of the study were recently revealed in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
“Prescription drug use is the next big epidemic,” explained the study´s lead author Robert Miech, a professor of sociology at CU Denver, in a prepared statement. “Everyone in this field has recognized that there is a big increase in the abuse of nonmedical analgesics but our study shows that it is accelerating among today’s generation of adolescents.”
The team of investigators looked at data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, cross-sectional surveys done annually throughout the country to assess national drug use. They analyzed data specifically between 1985 and 2009. Based on the findings, the abuse of prescription medication is “higher than any generation ever measured” and is found throughout subgroups of females, males, non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, and Hispanics.
The epidemic of prescription drug abuse may be due to a variety of factors.
“The increasing availability of analgesics in the general population is well documented, as the total number of hydrocodone and oxycodone products prescribed legally in the U.S. increased more than fourfold from about 40 million in 1991 to nearly 180 million in 2007,” wrote the researchers in the study. “Higher prevalence of analgesics“¦ among contemporary youth easier than in the past because more homes have prescription analgesics in their medicine cabinets.”
Another factor may be the modeling of drug use by parents of children.
“Youth who observe their parents taking analgesics as prescribed may come to the conclusion that any use of these drugs is OK and safe,” continued Miech in the statement.
As a result of the high use of prescription drugs, there have been more accidental deaths due to overdose of prescription medications as compared to overdoses of cocaine and heroin combined. Between 2004 and 2009, there was a 129 percent increase in the number of emergency room visits due to prescription drug use. As well, between 1997 and 2007, there was a 500 percent uptick in the number of individuals in the U.S. who sought treatment for dependence on prescription drugs.
Many students note that they receive the medications from their family members or friends.
“While most people recognize the dangers of leaving a loaded gun lying around the house,” noted Miech in the statement. “What few people realize is that far more people die as a result of unsecured prescription medications.”
Even with these negative consequences, there has not been as much social cost related to the abuse of prescription drug medications.
“These results suggest that current policies and interventions are not yet effective enough to counter the factors that have increased nonmedical analgesic use among U.S. youth and the general population,” concluded Miech in the statement. “But it is critical that we devise a strategy to deal with an epidemic that shows little sign of ebbing.”