In some ways, Americans have changed their drug habits for the better in recent years. U.S. adults are smoking less than ever before, and teenagers are drinking less alcohol than they ever have — or at least, since the government became concerned enough about teen drinking to start collecting data on the subject.
But even with those encouraging changes, a new vice has emerged that could present an even bigger danger to its users: prescription drugs. An estimated 2.4 million Americans used prescription drugs nonmedically for the first time in 2010, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). And most abusers start the habit in their teenage years.
Deaths from prescription drugs nearly tripled from 2000 to 2013, when nearly 23,000 Americans lost their lives due to prescription drug abuse.
The term “prescription drug” covers a wide array of substances, from tranquilizers to stimulants such as Adderall and painkillers like oxycodone. The key word here, of course, is “prescription.” All these drugs should be obtained via permission from a doctor who decides if their patient would benefit from taking this substance at a recommended frequency for a set length of time.
But most of the time, prescription drug abusers aren’t feeding their addiction with a prescription slip. Instead, more than 70 percent of them get the pills from a friend or relative, according to the National Institutes of Health. And most of the time, they’re securing these drugs for free.
On Tuesday, Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration announced that popular over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen, naproxen and diclofenac, as well as other anti-inflammatory drugs, would carry new warning labels. These stickers will caution patients about the increased risk of heart attack and stroke the painkillers can cause, stating: “Do not use for more than a few days at a time unless a doctor has told you to.”
Does anyone really think Australians will heed the advice of the warning labels and contact a doctor before buying and continually consuming Advil — whether for an especially persistent headache or for abuse?
Since millions of prescription drug abusers in the U.S. don’t even consult a doctor before popping painkillers, tranquilizers or stimulants that could drastically affect their health, the chances seem slim.
Fortunately, if you’re a parent who’s concerned about your teenage child trying prescription drugs, there’s one easy step you can take: hide your own medication. More than 60 percent of teenage drug abusers say they use because it’s easy to find medication from a parent’s medicine cabinet — the most common reason among U.S. teens.
Studies have shown that most drug abuse starts early on in life. Prescription drugs are no different. If the U.S. can find a way to limit teenagers’ access to such substances, it’s highly likely prescription drugs won’t be so popular in high schools anymore.