20% of Teens Seek "Safe High" from Rx Drugs

A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls on health care professionals and others to combat high rates of prescription drug abuse among teens.

A recent survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 1 in 5 high school students in the United States have taken prescription drugs without a prescription.

The findings were released as part of the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), which monitors health-risk behaviors among youth and young adults every other year. 2009 was the first year prescription drugs were included in the questionnaire.

Researchers asked 16,460 high school students if they had ever taken a prescription drug such as OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, Adderall, Ritalin, or Xanax, without a physician’s prescription. Prescription drug abuse was most common among whites at 23%, followed by Hispanic students at 17%, and black students at 12%. The problem was most pervasive among high school seniors (26%), and least common among high school freshmen (15%).

Students were more likely to experiment with prescription drugs than other illicit substances, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and ecstasy. Experts involved in the study said this indicates a lack of awareness among teens about the dangers of prescription drugs.

“Teens and others have a false assumption that prescription drugs are a safer ‘high,’” said Grant Baldwin, PhD, MPH, director of CDC’s Injury Center Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention. Data from other recent investigations suggest the issue is a growing threat to public health, CDC wrote in a media statement.

“Taking a prescription drug that hasn’t been prescribed to you is a health risk behavior,” wrote Danice K. Eaton, one of the report’s authors. Health care professionals, parents, and educators have a shared responsibility to spread this message, particularly among teens, the researchers concluded.

An overview of the YRBS results is available here.

For other articles in this issue, see:

  • Pharmacies Helping Fans at the World Cup
  • Lawmakers Caught in Medical Marijuana Tug-of-War
  • Prescription Adherence Study Pays Cash for Compliance