The avalanche of prescription drug use in the U.S. has given birth to a dangerous trend now greatly affecting our youth. Never mind that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has actually now classified prescription drug abuse in this country as an epidemic. Even more alarming is the unprecedented amount that these prescriptions are being doled out to our youth, giving rise to a new problem: teen abuse of anti-anxiety drugs and sleep medication.
The number of 12 to 17-year-olds abusing and getting hooked on prescription medications are at a highest ever. (According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, almost one-third of people aged 12 and over used prescription drugs non-medically in order to get high for their very first time in 2009.) But in order to solve this problem, it must be understood what is fueling this abuse. It is not what some think—that kids are out searching for dope peddling doctors or dealers who can supply these medical drugs. According to a study published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, teens that are being prescribed anti-anxiety drugs and sleep medication are 12 times more likely to get into an abusive situation with these drugs than teens who have never received these prescriptions. What does that tell us? It tells us that the healthcare industry’s own distribution of these medicines to these young adults is fueling the epidemic of abuse. Research conclusively shows that the rising abuse of these sleep and anti-anxiety medications by teens coincides with the number of prescriptions being given. If there was ever a wake-up call to the medical community that something must change, this is it.
Statistics on Prescription Abuse Amongst Teens
From 2009 to 2012 more than 2,700 middle and high school students from the Detroit area were surveyed twice a year. Almost 9 percent of this group had at some point been prescribed anti-anxiety meds such as Valium, Xanax, Klonopin, or sleep medication such as Lunesta or Ambien. The students who ceased using the medications before the study was over turned out to be 12 times more likely to start up again by illegally using someone else’s anti-anxiety drugs. These were most often supplied by family or friends. Though federal and state law prohibits the use of someone else’s prescription medications, it hasn’t slowed this dangerous trend.
The researchers in this Detroit study cited the fact that teens who turned to illegal use of these drugs did so because of a desire to get high or experiment. The anti-anxiety drugs produce highly attractive sensations that many of them seek once their prescriptions have run out. Add to that the highly addictive nature of the drugs and it’s a recipe for disaster.
Many teens are also under the false impression that these types of substances are safer than illegal drugs simply because they are prescribed by medical professionals and are dispensed at a pharmacy. Yet these medications can prove fatal if used when driving or mixed with other substances. Abusing them increases the risk of overdose and can even place these young people on a path of criminality to feed an addiction born from the drug’s misuse.
In conclusion, these studies show that the very prescriptions that are designed to help our youth are actually hurting them in far more expansive ways than we ever imagined. If the medical and parental communities are going to work together to bring a general state of health back to our teenagers, then much more emphasis needs to be placed on the pre-prescription phase of treatment: education, nutrition and stress-reduction.