Teens Have Easy Access to Prescription Drugs
> 8/15/2008 4:13:49 PM

Another unfortunate survey reveals the growing prevalence of hazardous prescription drugs in the lives of American high-schoolers. While alcohol and marijuana remain the most commonly used substances, the face of drug abuse is changing – and blame rests at least partially on the backs of inattentive "problem parents" who may not realize that their medications double as dangerously addictive controlled substances. 19% of 12-17 year-olds said that pharmaceuticals are more readily available than alcohol, cigarettes or marijuana. And these drugs can often be found within the confines of the family home.

The comprehensive study, performed by Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, interviewed more than 1,000 subjects to paint a somewhat disheartening picture of drug and alcohol use among adolescents. The most upsetting element of this equation is the growing popularity of recreational prescription drug use and the ease with which teens can acquire substances like Ritalin, Valium and Xanex. For the first time in the history of this annual survey, teens reported that these pharmaceuticals were easier to buy than beer. They also reported that the most dangerous variety, synthetic opiate pain-killers like OxyContin and Vicodin, are the most popular for recreational use. When teens that use such drugs were asked to name their sources, a shocking 34% stated that they got them “home, parents or the medicine cabinet.” That’s greater than the number who got them from friends or classmates. It would seem that the disturbingly casual distribution of these drugs downplays their inherent dangers.

How can parents turn their kids away from drugs? Turns out that many golden-age standards still hold sway over childhood (mis)behaviors: the more often kids stay out late on school nights, the more likely they are to drink, smoke or use drugs with friends. While nearly half of the sample population reported spending time away from home on school nights, only 14% of parents were aware of this fact, a discrepancy hinting at the parental disconnect that facilitates these behaviors. More heavily supervised kids such as those with strict curfews obviously have fewer chances to fall into trouble. Some parents play a far more active role in the equation: 1 in 4 teens know at least one parent of a friend or classmate who smokes marijuana and 10% know an adult who smokes with high school aged kids. Contrary to reports citing declining marijuana use, the drug is still available to millions on short notice. It remains the most easily accessible drug, and the number of teens who are reportedly able to procure pot in 24 hours or less continues to rise.

But don’t assume that teens underestimate the dangers of substance abuse. For the 13th year in a row, they listed drugs as their number 1 area of concern. In fact, far more teens than parents emphasized the weight of this issue - so naivety on their part is not the culprit. Parents need to better educate themselves about the challenges their children face and practice exhibiting a greater sense of oversight. Their own unawareness could very obviously hurt their kids.

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