Recent research shows that American teen girls have caught up with boys in their rates of smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, which hasn’t always been the case. Here’s something else: teenage girls are now more likely than boys to abuse prescription drugs like pain pills and ADHD medications. The thing is—they have different reasons for doing so.
NIDA researchers surveyed hundreds of teens and asked them about their motivations for using particular prescription drugs. For stimulants like ADHD medications, for example, the young men were more likely to abuse them to get high or experiment, while for young women, it was to help them concentrate or stay alert. In other words, the young women were more likely “self-treat” for a specific purpose.
For one thing, when you borrow someone else’s medication or even take your own in a way that wasn’t prescribed, you put yourself at risk for scary side effects that can change your heart rhythm and breathing. And although prescription drugs may seem safer than street drugs, they still can lead to addiction and even death, especially when they’re mixed with other drugs or alcohol.
Do you have a friend who abuses prescription drugs? Do your own survey—ask them why, and let us know what you find out.
In September, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sponsored the first ever “Take Back” campaign, asking people to bring all their old and unused prescription drugs to law enforcement sites all over the country. The American public really responded and brought 121 TONS of drugs back to more than 4,000 sites! That’s a lot of unused drugs.
Now, on November 13th, the Partnership for a Drug Free America and its partners are sponsoring the American Medicine Chest Challenge--once again asking Americans to clean out their medicine cabinets and bring their old prescription drugs to sites listed on the Web site.
Why all the commotion about unused prescription drugs? Studies show that when teens take prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons (like trying to get “high”) they usually get them from family or friends. Taking drugs not prescribed for you--or taking prescribed drugs long after you really need them--can be dangerous. And mixing them with alcohol and other drugs can cause overdose and death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, recently reported that in the last 10 years, the number of fatal overdoses involving pain medications more than tripled from 4,000 to 13,800 deaths, greater than heroin and cocaine combined.
So ask your parents to check out the family medicine cabinets for old or unused medicines---let them know they can bring them to sites in your own communities where they can be disposed of properly. By doing so, you can benefit the public health in two ways—getting more prescription drugs out of circulation and helping the environment, since flushing pills is not good for it. Photos from the DEA event can be found on the DEA Web site: http://www.justice.gov/dea/pubs/pressrel/pr100510.html
Lots of people are prescribed prescription drugs like OxyContin or Vicodin to help with pain from an injury or surgery. When taken as prescribed, these medications are safe; but when abused, they can be highly addictive and dangerous—even deadly.
In the video, “Get Back in the Game: Use Painkillers Safely,” NIDA scientists Dr. Cindy Miner and Dr. Joni Rutter describe what can happen when a person abuses painkillers. What is considered prescription drug abuse? Here are some examples:
- Taking someone else’s prescription
- Taking more than prescribed for you, or for a reason other than intended
- Mixing prescription drugs with alcohol or other drugs
To learn more, take a look at the materials in NIDA’s PEERx initiative. Prescription drug abuse is actually a serious public health problem in this country, and is growing in teens. You can help turn it around by raising awareness among your friends and family. Prescription drug abuse IS drug abuse, period.
Narcotics and prescription drugs account for about 75% of all deaths caused by unintentional poisonings in North Carolina.
“Unintentional poisoning” may make you think about small children accidentally taking medicines they find at home, but they make up the smallest fraction of the total—less than 1%! It’s much more likely to happen to a teen or an adult, mostly because of prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse.
Video PSA Contest
In March 2012, the North Carolina Attorney General announced the “Stop Rx Abuse” video public service announcement (PSA) contest. The contest encouraged teens to create brief PSA videos on teen prescription drug abuse.
Homero Plancarte’s video shows how prescription drug abuse can have unexpected effects. The video’s tagline is, “One life, One wrong decision, Prescription drugs kill.”
Trevor Belk’s video describes how people usually associate drug abuse with meth labs and street alleys, even though more people in North Carolina die from prescription drug overdoses than any other group of drugs.
Carson Banks’ video describes facts related to prescription drug abuse and the arrests and deaths that can result from it. The video is brought together with the tagline, “Life is not a video. There is no rewind.”
Is your state, school, or community doing something to raise awareness about the dangers of prescription drug abuse? If so, what are they doing?
To learn more about prescription drug abuse or how you can help spread the word, check out NIDA’s prescription drug abuse awareness campaign for teens, PEERx.
Did you know the prescription drug abuse problem in America has reached what the White House calls “epidemic proportions?” To help teens understand what prescription drug abuse can do to the brain and body, NIDA has created a PEERx Web site containing science-based information about the problem.
The PEERx Web site also offers free downloads, including iron-ons to make your own t-shirts and accessories, stickers, posters, buddy icons, and other cool stuff. So, express yourself and help spread the word, too.
Share this site with your friends, and let us know which downloads are your favorites. NIDA wants to know what works or doesn’t work for getting important health information to teens. Tell us what you think by submitting a comment in the “Leave a Reply” box below, or by sending us a message. We want to hear your voice!
Hello, again. In my last post, I wrote about the importance of teens realizing their potential as effective leaders. Today, I want to share with you how some teens are leading a movement to prevent prescription drug abuse.
In the state of Ohio, youth-led prevention is alive and well. Last year, the Ohio Youth-Led Prevention Network (OYLPN)—made up of youth-led substance abuse prevention providers and youth across the state—planned and implemented a statewide rally, bringing together hundreds of drug-free teens from all over the state. As they marched through the downtown streets, they proudly shouted, “We are the majority!” and were greeted by many of the state’s leaders when they arrived at the Statehouse.
Youth to Youth (Y2Y) International, which I am a part of, is working to prevent prescription drug abuse among central Ohio teens. With the help of a grant from the Cardinal Health Foundation, a group of teens has adapted a toolkit from the Ohio State University School of Pharmacy Web site, Generation Rx, transforming it into an exciting and interactive presentation entitled, “The pHARMING Effects.”
The presentation includes:
- A definition of prescription drug abuse and misuse
- A discussion of the insidious nature of addiction
- The impact of prescription drug marketing as well as tips on how to think critically about this advertising
- Relevant statistics and strategies for teens to initiate change in their homes, schools, and communities
This is a great example of effective youth-led prevention: Teens taking relevant and accurate information, designing a presentation, then using it to educate other young people.
Y2Y Teens Partner With NIDA and PEERx
In summer 2012, in an effort to develop a youth-led workshop, several Y2Y teens checked out NIDA’s PEERx Web site. Using NIDA’s science-based information, they created a workshop entitled, “The Epidemic Among Us.” They presented this workshop six different times at the Youth to Youth International summer conferences in Ohio, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island. The workshop was very well received by over 150 other teens, who each left with a t-shirt decorated using a PEERx iron-on transfer.
Presenting the workshop not only helped educate the teens in attendance, but introduced the Web site as an excellent resource for young people who hope to continue making an impact back home.
Youth leadership in the world of prevention is vital.
How are youth in your school or community working to prevent drug abuse?
Ty Sells is the Director of Training for Youth to Youth International. He has worked in the field of youth development for over 25 years and speaks at schools all over the United States. He has developed a variety of presentations, workshops, and trainings for youth and the adults who work with them.
Youth to Youth is a community-based drug prevention and youth leadership program focusing mainly on middle and high school students. The goal of its many projects is to harness the powerful influence of peers, encouraging young people to live free of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs.
Have you ever wondered what it might be like to see your life in the future? Have you ever wondered what MIGHT have happened if you’d just done something differently? Now’s your chance!
On July 27, 2011 NIDA launched a new, interactive activity on its PEERx Web pages called Choose Your Path. This activity asks you to play the role of the main character and walk through a day in his or her life. As you go through the video clips, you are confronted with the decision to choose between two paths. For example, you have to choose whether to take certain prescription drugs that were not prescribed to you—and you get to watch how each decision plays out onscreen.
The first video in the Choose Your Path collection, “BFF or the Ex,” allows you to experience a teenage girl’s life as she goes to school and encounters some serious drama with her friends. Only you can decide which path she will take. Should she go on a date with her best friend’s ex boyfriend? Or avoid the drama altogether and say no to him?
How it Works
First, a video clip will play on the screen to set up the scene. At the end of each video clip, you will have to choose one of two different paths by clicking a button on the screen. After making your choice, you can watch the scene play out. If you don’t like the ending, or if you’re curious about how a different choice will play out, just start over and choose a different path.
Behind the Scenes
Making this video took a long time, but was really fun. Students at Rockville High School (RHS) helped to make the video look as realistic as possible. NIDA auditioned and cast real-life teens to play the roles of the characters you see onscreen. After that, we took over the halls and classrooms of RHS to shoot the scenes. Many times we had to do LOTS of “takes” to get it just right. It was cool to see an abstract concept become a reality. We hope you like it!
This video was made with teens just like you in mind, so please send us your feedback. We want to hear what you think!
Did you know that prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are the most commonly abused substances by high school seniors (after marijuana and alcohol)? Some medications have psychoactive (mind-altering) properties and, because of that, are sometimes abused—taken for reasons or in ways not intended by a doctor, or taken by someone with no prescription.
In all my years as a medical doctor and scientist who studies drug abuse, I have never met anyone who wanted to get addicted. Sometimes, addiction comes from a lack of knowledge. For example, people often think that prescription and OTC drugs are safer than illicit drugs, but that’s only true when they are taken exactly as prescribed and for the purpose intended. When abused, prescription and OTC drugs can be addictive and lead to other bad health effects, including overdose—especially when taken along with other drugs or alcohol.
We have a cool infographic on Monitoring the Future stats—Check it out.
You’ve probably seen television commercials advertising prescription drugs for any number of things—from fibromyalgia (fi-bro-my-al-ja) to depression. Usually these ads end with an announcer running through a long list of dangerous side effects and warnings so fast that viewers can’t possibly get all of them, even when they include death.
Did you know that the United States and New Zealand are the only countries in the world that allow prescription drug companies to market medications directly to the public?
Some drug companies even use celebrity spokespersons, such as pro golfer Phil Mickelson who appears in a commercial promoting a drug for arthritis. The ad shows a vibrant green golf course on a sunny day while the background voice states that “sometimes fatal events” could occur in people who use the drug. Those include infections, tuberculosis, lymphoma and other cancers, and blood disorders. But the voice listing these effects seems more like an afterthought.
Risk of Addiction
Some prescription drugs marketed on TV carry the risk of addiction if they are abused. For example, Ambien is a central nervous system depressant prescribed for sleep disorders and could lead to addiction if not used as prescribed.
An Ambien TV commercial appeals to the viewer through humor—a rooster in the bedroom—and also through the promise of a good night’s sleep. However, the side effects listed at the end of the commercial are cause for concern—abnormal behaviors like being more outgoing or aggressive, confused, agitated, and even experiencing hallucinations. Ambien might also worsen depression and increase suicide risk.
Stay Alert to Marketing Gimmicks
In a previous blog, we talked about truth in advertising with alcohol commercials during the 2011 Super Bowl. The purpose of commercials for any product—alcohol, candy, cleaning supplies, or medications—is to sell that product.
The Food and Drug Administration oversees advertising that drug companies put on TV, but it doesn’t control how viewers react to the ads. A survey of 500 physicians reported that 78 percent of physicians believe their patients understand the possible benefits of the drugs they saw in a commercial, but only 40 percent believe their patients understand the possible risks. About 75 percent of physicians surveyed believe that commercials for medications make people think the drug works better than it does.
So, when you watch TV, see if you recognize shows and commercials about prescription drug abuse and think about whether or not what you’re seeing is accurate.
America loves its football—watching an NFL game on a crisp fall Sunday with our friends and families is a big part of our culture. But that fun comes at a cost to the pros who get tackled over and over in pursuit of a touchdown. A study of retired NFL players found that prescription painkiller abuse among NFL players is rampant, and that abuse continues even into a player’s retirement. The study found that retired NFL players are 4 times as likely to abuse painkillers as other people.
Many players said they abused painkillers so they could play through pain from injuries they might get in a game as well as pain from past injuries that hadn’t gone away. Many also said that they didn’t know about the risks of such abuse or feel like they had a choice. They felt pressure to play on, despite the pain.
The Problem With Painkiller Abuse
When taken as prescribed by a doctor, painkillers safely help patients in pain. However, when taken without a prescription or not as prescribed, the effects on the brain and body can be serious. For instance, a large dose could cause breathing trouble that is severe enough to cause death.
Do We Expect Too Much of Pro Athletes?
The study found that many NFL athletes also used ketorolac, a medication that reduces swelling, to also help dim pain from injuries. A growing worry about ketorolac is that it thins the blood and could make players more susceptible to the effects of concussions. What’s more, players using medications just to cover pain, not for a specific injury their doctor diagnosed, may raise their risk for injury because they feel less pain while on the field.
So, what do you think? Should professional athletes like NFL players be expected to play through the pain, even if it requires abusing painkillers and other medicines? Let us know in comments.
Learn more about prescription drug abuse and its effects.
As good as they are, it’s gotta get old, all these messages about “don’t do drugs” and live a healthy lifestyle, so NIDA has decided to take a fresh approach to allow teens to work directly with their peers and friends to plan community events around prescription drug abuse.
The PEERx Activity Guide appears on NIDA’s newly updated PEERx Web site and is full of cool activities and ideas that you can do in or out of school with friends and classmates, like: hold an artwork contest or poster campaign, participate in Drug Facts Chat Day, hold a CSI-type classroom activity, organize a school assembly, plan a Relieve the Stress Fest, or organize a t-shirt day to spread the message about making healthy choices. And more.
Check out the Activity Guide and read the how-to guides for each idea to find out how you and your friends can pull off one of these fun activities. Be a leader and start a peer-to-peer movement!
Some people think taking prescription stimulants can mean more As on their report cards.
Prescription stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin are prescribed to help treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Many people believe that taking stimulants if they don’t have ADHD will help them focus more, stay alert longer, and improve memory—all helpful to learning. But do these medications really make you a better student?
Researchers have found that ADHD drugs like Adderall and Ritalin do not improve academic performance in teens who don’t have ADHD. In fact, there is no evidence that ADHD drugs improve grades even in those who do have ADHD. They help people manage their symptoms effectively, but that’s it.
The people at the top of the class aren’t abusing prescription stimulants to get there. In fact, the average person who abuses prescription stimulants:
- Typically has lower grades than those who don’t abuse these drugs
- Is more likely than other students to drink alcohol heavily and use other illicit drugs
- May use prescription stimulants to party longer, and mix them with other substances to get high
There’s no “quick fix” to getting good grades. So, how can you improve in school? You could:
- Study with a group
- Make flash cards
- Get enough sleep
- Go to class and take notes
Do you have other study tips that help you get good grades? Share them in comments.
Check out NIDA’s Choose Your Path video “The Big Test” to make decisions about abusing Adderall to cram for a test and watch how the story plays out.
Imagine that you have a big test tomorrow and you haven’t finished studying. You feel unprepared and stressed out, but the last thing you want to do is open that book. What do you do? Cram all night? Schedule a last-minute study group with friends? Don’t study and take your chances?
What if someone told you to take a prescription stimulant like Adderall to help you focus, but the prescription didn’t belong to you?
Which path would you choose?
Today, NIDA is launching the second Choose Your Path video, “The Big Test” on the PEERx section of the NIDA for Teens Web site. Choose Your Path puts you in control of the drama. In “The Big Test,” you are in the shoes of a teenage boy who hasn’t finished studying for his chemistry exam. You get to decide when or if he studies, or whether he takes his sister’s Adderall—a drug prescribed to her by a doctor for her ADHD—because he heard it would help him stay alert and focused. Of course, every decision has a consequence, and you’ll get to see each one play out.
How It Works
A video clip will play on screen to set up the story. At the end of each clip, you will get to choose one of two different paths by clicking a choice listed onscreen. After making your choice, you’ll get to see what it leads to in the next scene.
If you don’t like the ending, or if you’re curious about where a different choice will lead, simply start over and choose a different path. Unlike real life, this video gives you “do overs.”
Choose Your Path is part of our latest online initiative, PEERx, to share facts with you about what can happen to your brain and body if you abuse prescription drugs.
In June 2011, NIDA launched the first Choose Your Path video, “BFF or the Ex,” which takes you through the drama a teenage girl encounters with her friends at school. If you haven’t checked it out already, watch it now. We created the Choose Your Path videos with teens in mind. We consulted teens for their feedback every step of the way—and we cast real-life teens from a nearby school to be actors in this video. Now, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the final products. You can leave comments here on the blog or share your feedback through the other methods mentioned here.
There are lots of really cool features on the newly updated PEERx Web site. Have you seen them? Check them out here. From unique downloadable images that you can iron right onto T-shirts or print onto stickers, to the new Choose Your Path video that puts YOU in the driver's seat to decide what happens next, to the Activity Guide full of fun things you can plan in your school or community group—there is something for everyone!
So now we want to know, what is your favorite feature on the PEERx Web site? Do you like to download cool designs, choose a path in a video activity, or create your own stories?
To answer the question, you can either write your response in the "Leave a Reply" box below, or send us a message. As always, we read all comments and consider all feedback.
Don't forget that you can always respond to questions we've asked before, so comment away! We value your feedback and look forward to hearing from you.
As a public health analyst at NIDA, one of my jobs is to look at data and help get information out to the public. When I heard that about 1 in 10 high school seniors had used the pain medicine Vicodin last year without a prescription, I knew there was a problem. Many people, and not just teens, think that because doctors are the ones who typically prescribe these drugs, they are safe for anyone to use. That’s not true.
So, why would someone take a prescription drug that wasn’t theirs? Research shows there are many reasons.
While a number of young people take prescription drugs to get high, many teens, especially girls, take them to help them concentrate when studying or to deal with physical pain. Even this type of use is considered “abuse” and is illegal since the drug was not prescribed for that person.
Not only is it illegal but it might end up affecting your health. Even if you follow the directions on the label, those instructions were written for someone else. For example, different body weights require different dosages for many medicines.
You might be saying, “Well, my friend took a prescription drug that wasn’t hers and she was ok. What’s the big deal?” Maybe for your friend, or even you, it was fine that time-but that may not be the case the next time. Some people aren’t so lucky (like Heath Ledger). Different drugs have different effects. For example, abusing stimulants could cause your blood pressure to become dangerously high or lead to an irregular heartbeat. Or if opioids are taken with alcohol or antihistamines, they can cause you to stop breathing.
Writing this reminded me of a story I heard about an acquaintance who decided to try OxyContin at a party. She had been drinking when she took the pill and didn’t know that OxyContin mixed with alcohol can have some pretty nasty effects. She became disoriented, got separated from her friends, and passed out. Fortunately, her friends found her and she recovered. She decided never again to take that kind of risk, but it’s too bad she had to go through such a scary ordeal before making that choice.
When you’re faced with the option to use a prescription drug that’s not yours, pause and ask yourself… Is this something I really want to add to the mix? Do I want to take the chance of putting myself and my friends through what could happen? If you’re reading this, you’ve shown that you care about yourself and your future. Show you care the next time you face a tough choice about whether or not to pop a pill that’s not yours.
Bio: Anna is a public health analyst with NIDA. She spends a lot of time looking at numbers and answering questions about drug abuse statistics. When she’s not doing that she’s usually at the gym, finding new restaurants, or spending time with her family.
NIDA scientists aren’t the only people on a mission to shatter the myths about drug abuse among youth. SBB caught up with teens at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington at the Germantown, MD, branch and asked them to share what they have done recently to educate members about drug abuse.
Here’s a quick peek at some events that Keystone Club members held during November 2011.
- To fit the spirit of Halloween, they passed out lollipops with drug abuse facts and messages, such as “Never take a prescription that is not your own.”
- They coordinated a “drug facts quiz” that gave other club members a chance to win prizes.
- They hosted a visit from NIDA Communications staff and learned about prescription drug abuse and the new, online PEERx resources, including the interactive Choose Your Path videos.
- They held a scavenger hunt to find drug facts questions hidden around the club. Correct answers earned a prize.
With a little planning and help from their advisor, the Keystone members held several fun and educational events.
“I was impressed greatly by the way our teens took initiative and created a project that spanned the entire month of November,” said Evelyn Kyere, the teen director. “They worked together to ensure that the impact went beyond sharing information with their teen peers. They recognized that it’s never too early to prepare children to make decisions that promote a healthy lifestyle.”
Inspired? Check out the PEERx Activity Guide for easy event ideas and instructions. And let us know if your school or community group held a drug abuse prevention event recently—you could get a shoutout on the Sara Bellum Blog!
Have you ever wondered about whether medications prescribed by a doctor could actually be dangerous? Or whether giving a friend a prescription pill you take for ADHD could be bad for them?
Sometimes, people assume that if your doctor prescribes you medications, then they are safe for anyone. Prescription drugs, like Ritalin or Adderall for ADHD, or Tylenol 3 or Percocet for pain, can be extremely effective when used as prescribed…by the people they were prescribed for.
But people who have not been seen by a doctor for these conditions are asking friends to share their drugs for a variety of reasons. For example, Adderall and Ritalin belong to a class of drugs called stimulants—that is, they stimulate your brain and make you feel more alert. Teens might think that's an advantage when taking a test at school. However, that kind of use is actually drug abuse, and can hurt you.
Check out the November issue of Glamour magazine for stories of women who have taken these drugs—both as prescribed and not—and see what they experienced as a result (NIDA's Director, Dr. Nora Volkow was interviewed as a subject expert). And check out the facts about prescription drug abuse on NIDA for Teens.
Prescription and over-the-counter drugs are among the most commonly abused drugs by high school seniors. Many teens think that abusing prescription drugs like Adderall or Vicodin is safe because they are medications prescribed by doctors.
That’s not true—prescription drugs that are not taken as prescribed can have powerful and dangerous effects on the brain and body. When doctors prescribe medication for a patient, they have taken into account that person’s age, body weight, other health conditions, and other medications or supplements.
Taking someone else’s prescription, like Adderall, can cause irregular heart beat and seizures; and abusing pain medicine like Vicodin can restrict breathing. Prescription pain relievers, stimulants, and antidepressants can all have serious side effects if abused—that is, taken in ways or for a reason or by a person not intended by the prescription.
How Teens Find Prescription Drugs To Abuse
In the 2011 Monitoring the Future study, high school seniors reported that they got most of the prescription drugs they abused from friends and relatives, sometimes without their knowledge. It’s important for families to keep their prescription drugs in a secure place—and remove any expired, unwanted, or unused medications, so that your friends and younger siblings (and even pets) cannot get hold of them.
Most drugs can be thrown out in the household trash, but your parents should take certain precautions before doing that. Here are a few tips from the Food and Drug Administration for disposing of over-the-counter and prescription medications.
- Read the Label
Follow all disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information that comes with the medication.
- Find a Medicine Take-Back Program
Medicine take-back programs will safely dispose of medication for you. Contact your city or county government’s trash and recycling service—or your local pharmacist—to find out if there is a take-back program near you. Another option is National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. Local law enforcement and community partners offer thousands of take-back sites nationwide to collect unwanted medicines a few times each year.
- Seal it Up and Throw it Away
If no instructions are available on the drug label and your community doesn’t have a medication take-back program, you can throw away prescription drugs in your household trash. Follow these three simple steps:
1. Mix medicine—do NOT crush it—with something gross, like used kitty litter or coffee grounds.
2. Place the mixture in a closed container, such as a sealed plastic bag, to prevent leaking.
3. Put the container in the trash.
- Flush It
A small number of medications are so harmful and dangerous that it’s best to flush them down the sink or toilet to prevent accidental use by children or pets. Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet unless the label instructions specifically tell you to do so. View a list of medicines that should be flushed.
Throwing away unused medicine is just one way to help prevent prescription drug abuse. Check out NIDA’s PEERx Activity Guide for some fun ideas and step-by-step instructions for mobilizing your peers in creative ways. If you have other ideas, let us know in the comments.