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.
Hello! I am just back from speaking at a news conference about NIDA’s 2010 Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF)—a big crowd of reporters showed up to hear the latest numbers with regard to teens and drug use. I wrote about MTF last year, remember? To remind you, MTF is an anonymous survey of more than 46,000 8th, 10th and 12th graders around the country. The survey measures drug and alcohol use. It also assesses teens’ attitudes about drugs by asking these questions: “Do you think drugs are harmful?” “Do you disapprove of drugs?” And… “How available are they?” This year we had some surprising changes that have me worried.
For one thing, marijuana use is going up, especially among 8th graders. The survey also showed that fewer teens think marijuana is harmful. This is one of the biggest drug myths out there. Not only does marijuana affect learning, judgment, and motor skills, but research tells us that about 1 in 11 people who use marijuana even once will later become addicted to it. AND, the younger people start, the more likely this will happen. Therefore, I am especially concerned by survey results showing that daily marijuana use increased significantly among all three grades, so that in 2010, 6.1 percent of high school seniors, 3.3 percent of 10th-graders, and 1.2 percent of 8th-graders were daily marijuana users.
In some cases it looks as if marijuana is becoming more popular than cigarettes. In 2010, 21.4 percent of high school seniors used marijuana in the past 30 days, while 19.2 percent smoked cigarettes. The good news is there are still a lot of wise teens who stay away from both marijuana and cigarettes. Research shows that these kids will be more successful in school, and in life.
(note: Video is from 2009)
The MTF Survey also tells us that abuse of prescription drugs remains high. That is when you use a medication not prescribed for you or in a way not intended—such as taking ADHD drugs before a test or taking a pain reliever to get high. In fact, 6 of the top 10 drugs abused by 12th-graders in the past year were prescribed or purchased over- the- counter. Prescription pain relievers (opioids) are a particular problem, with many more overdoses occurring than in the past.
NIDA would like to hear your feedback—why do you think more teens are using marijuana, and fewer are disapproving of its use?
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.
Ever wonder how “real” those grueling scenes on reality TV shows are when actors and other celebrities check in for addiction rehab and are shown going through withdrawal? After all, these folks are all in show biz!
SBB was curious about exactly how withdrawal happens. Withdrawal is defined as: symptoms that occur after chronic use of a drug is reduced or stopped.
But that’s just where the story begins. The symptoms of withdrawal vary a lot by drug, including how harsh they are and how long they last.
Consider prescription opioids, or painkillers. These are drugs like oxycodone (better known as Oxycontin) or hydrocodone (Vicodin). Opioids are typically prescribed for someone having severe pain, from the ache after a root canal to a chronic condition like back pain from an injury. When opioids are taken as prescribed, they can provide temporary relief from severe pain. But, they are also highly addictive and must be taken only as prescribed.
Some people will abuse a prescription drug by taking more than prescribed, or in ways not intended, which can lead to serious problems, including slowed heartrate and breathing and even addiction. And just like with “illegal” drugs, quitting is hard and can bring on withdrawal symptoms. Opioid withdrawal symptoms can include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps ("cold turkey"), and involuntary leg movements. Yikes.
Taking away the chemicals that alter your brain through drugs of addiction is a pretty harsh reality. Your body and brain react strongly, even violently sometimes, because of missing the chemicals they’ve come to depend on through repeated drug use.
If a person knew from the start that quitting drugs would be so difficult, would they think twice before trying them? Probably so… Know the facts.
Knowing the health risks that come with using or abusing drugs convinces most teens (and adults) to stay away from them. But what if you don’t think certain drugs are unsafe?
In December 2012, NIDA released the results of the 2012 Monitoring the Future (MTF) study (involving 8th, 10th, and 12th graders). The findings show that fewer teens believe abusing marijuana and Adderall is bad for their health. This belief is contributing to higher rates of abuse of these drugs.
Over the last 5 years, current (past-month) marijuana use has gone up significantly among 10th and 12th graders. In fact, current marijuana use among high school seniors is at its highest point since the late 1990s. Daily marijuana use has climbed significantly across all three grades. The study also found that fewer teens now believe using marijuana is harmful.
However, the science shows otherwise. People who smoke a lot of pot risk injuring their lungs with the chemicals found in the smoke, and may also experience depression and anxiety. New research has found smoking marijuana heavily in your teen years and continuing into adulthood can actually lower your IQ!
Also in the 2012 MTF study, 12th graders reported increased nonmedical use of the prescription stimulant Adderall—commonly prescribed to people with ADHD. As with marijuana, fewer teens perceive that abusing Adderall is risky. If that trend continues, Adderall abuse will probably continue to increase as well.
Abusing a stimulant medication like Adderall may increase blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature; decrease appetite and sleep; and cause feelings of hostility and paranoia.
Perception of Risk
Studies have found that when teens think a drug can be harmful, they are less likely to abuse it. In the case of marijuana and Adderall, it appears that some teens don’t see the risk. Tell us: Do you think these drugs are dangerous? If you agree they are, what can we do to help people you know get the message?
Other notable findings from the 2012 MTF study:
- Most of the top drugs abused by 12th graders are legal substances, like alcohol, tobacco, over-the-counter drugs, and prescription drugs.
- Abuse of synthetic marijuana—K2 or Spice—remained stable in 2012.
- Most teens who abuse prescription drugs get them from family and friends.
- Alcohol use and cigarette smoking are steadily declining.
Check out this cool infographic to learn more.
These drug abuse estimates come from the Monitoring the Future study’s national surveys of approximately 45,000 students in about 400 secondary schools each year. View all of the 2012 data.
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!
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.
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!
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!
Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino recently opened up about his recovery from painkiller addiction.
Mike says he became addicted to the opioid painkillers he was prescribed after an injury he suffered on “Dancing With the Stars.” In an interview with the Associated Press, he recounts the moment when he knew he was addicted. It was during a family trip to Australia in February 2012, when he ran out of his pills. Mike says:
“All I had to do was get dressed for a family function and I couldn’t do that … The shirt was laid out, the belt, the pants, everything. The shower was on. I couldn’t even get out of bed.” He then realized: “If I can’t do that how am I going to continue?”
Soon after, he entered drug abuse treatment.
Medicine To Treat Substance Abuse
Mike says using Suboxone, combined with counseling, has kept him from relapsing and returning to drug abuse. In fact, he is now a paid spokesperson for the drug and continues to take it to maintain his recovery.
Mike and the drug company that makes Suboxone launched Reset Reality, a campaign to increase awareness about opioid addiction. Reset Reality aims to motivate people addicted to opioids like prescription painkillers to seek treatment and “reset their reality.” The Web site features several videos called “Words of Reality”—personal stories from Mike and others in recovery talking about their addiction and how medication-assisted treatment helped them.
Check out NIDA’s Opioid and Pain Reliever Drug Facts for more information about opioid addiction.
After the news hit about the death of Michael Jackson and all the speculation about his possible prescription drug use, the NIDA press office phones rang off the hook. Why? News reporters wanted information on prescription drug misuse and abuse.
We talked to the NIDA Communications Director, Carol Krause (pictured right), about how they handle calls like that.
Sara Bellum Blog (SBB): How many calls does NIDA get when news like this hits?
Carol: Well it depends on the celebrity and how definite the news is. With Anna Nicole Smith, speculation was immediate that drug abuse was involved, so we got a lot of calls from the press right away. With Heath Ledger, people weren’t so sure, and the inquiries came gradually, over a period of weeks.
SBB: And Michael Jackson?
Carol: Within a few hours of his death, the NIDA press office got maybe a dozen calls from major news reporters wanting information on prescription drug abuse. They were doing research in case toxicology reports came back saying that medication misuse contributed to the pop icon’s death.
SBB: And what do you tell them?
Carol: We treat this like any other inquiry. We give them facts. The fact is that between the years of 1999 and 2005, the number of accidental deaths from drug overdoses in this country more than doubled.
SBB: Really? Why?
Carol: The biggest problem is the increased misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers—opioid narcotics like Vicodin and OxyContin.
SBB: Is this a problem with teenagers?
Carol: Absolutely. For the past 5 years, 1 in 10 high school seniors have reported they use Vicodin without a prescription—1 in 20 have used OxyContin.
SBB: Why isn’t the press reporting this?
Carol: Oh they are. The question is—are teens listening?
SBB: I’d like to think teens are smart enough to know that using medications without a prescription can be dangerous. What is the take away lesson from Michael Jackson’s death?
Carol: That we don’t need a tragedy like this to learn how to make smart decisions about your health. The information you need is right here on the NIDA website.
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.
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.
On February 12, the 54th annual GRAMMY Awards paid tribute to music legend Whitney Houston, who died the previous night at the young age of 48. Early reports suggest that a deadly mix of prescription drugs and alcohol were the cause of Houston’s death, though toxicology results are still pending. It is well known that the six-time GRAMMY winner battled drug and alcohol addiction.
Michael Jackson…Amy Winehouse…and now Whitney Houston. Legendary singers who seemed to have it all—talent, charisma, fame, money, power, family support. And yet, they could not overcome their addiction to drugs. That’s because addiction doesn’t care if you’re famous or rich—once you’re in its grip, the experience is similar for many of the 20 million people in the United States today who struggle with this brain disease.
Why Do People Continue To Take Drugs?
Why do people continue to abuse drugs and, in some cases, combine them with alcohol, when so many others have fallen from doing so? Although Houston entered rehab three times, she is a perfect example of why addiction is defined as “a chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.”
The initial decision to take drugs is mostly voluntary—but after that, a combination of genetics and environment will write the rest of the story. Some people will become addicted and will find it impossible to stop taking drugs without help. Addiction changes the brain’s structure and how it works. Brain imaging studies from people who are addicted to drugs show physical changes that not only affect feelings of pleasure but also judgment, decision-making, learning, memory, and self-control. That may help explain the compulsive and destructive behaviors that characterize addiction.
What Are the Dangers of Abusing Prescription Drugs?
One of the greatest myths about prescription drugs is that, because doctors prescribe them, they are safer to abuse than illegal drugs. But as prescription drugs have become more available, more people are literally dying from their abuse. In fact, every year in the United States, more people die from an accidental overdose of painkillers than from heroin and cocaine combined.
The word “prescription” is not the same as the word “safe,” especially when alcohol is added, which can affect heart rhythm, slow respiration, and even lead to death.
Resources To Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse
Although we can be saddened by Houston’s passing, we can also take a thoughtful look at her experience and learn from it.
NIDA offers many resources so you can learn the science behind what prescription drug abuse does to your brain and body. Are you curious how the choice to abuse prescription drugs could play out? Check out NIDA’s Choose Your Path videos to put yourself in the shoes of a story’s main character.
We do not yet know exactly how Whitney Houston died. We can only guess that her drug abuse and addiction may have contributed to her death. We do know that addiction was a major blow to her life, career, family, friends, and fans, all of whom are experiencing the sad consequences.
In a recent Drug Facts Chat Day, freeman-jones of Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School, Maryland asked:
Can taking Ritalin help you if you have not been prescribed Ritalin?
Ritalin is a drug used in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and is classified as a stimulant. The term stimulants can be used to refer to any number of drugs, including prescription drugs like methylphenidate (Ritalin’s scientific name) and dextroamphetamine (Adderall).
People diagnosed (by a doctor) with ADHD can benefit from these drug when they’re used as prescribed. However, teens with an ADHD prescription are sometimes pressured by friends to share some of their pills because they think the pills will help them focus or stay alert or ace an exam.Trouble is, when you take a pill that’s been prescribed for someone else’s weight, symptoms and body chemistry, or take more than the right dose for your own body, it can bring on more harm than good. Like changing your mood in ways that you can’t control, or raising your blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature. And when the effects wear off, you might feel extreme fatigue and maybe even depression.
Better than borrowing someone’s prescription pills is GETTING SLEEP. It’s safe and easy and will help you learn and stay mentally and physically alert. Maybe that’s why sleep is such a major part of our lives. Get it for free now (ok, wait ‘til bedtime).
Have you ever heard the term ”psychoactive drugs?” Drugs in this category act on the central nervous system and and alter its normal, everyday activity, causing changes in mood, awareness, and behavior. Psychoactive drugs disrupt the communication between neurons (brain cells), so abusing them can have serious short- and long-term effects on the brain.
Psychoactive drugs include four groups of drugs: depressants like alcohol and sleeping pills; stimulants like nicotine and ecstasy; opioids like heroin and pain medications; and hallucinogens like LSD.
The term psychoactive drug might make you think of drugs, like LSD, that change your brain and behavior in really extreme ways. LSD is a hallucinogen, or “psychedelic” that significantly alters the brain and the user’s perception of reality. It is also an illicit, or illegal, drug.
But not all psychoactive drugs are illegal. Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee and energy drinks, and opioids like Vicodin, OxyContin, or morphine are often prescribed by doctors to relieve pain. Abusing prescribed psychoactive drugs is illegal though, and can be as dangerous as abusing cocaine or heroin. That is one reason why they come with warning labels telling people not to drive or operate heavy machinery. Drinking too much caffeine is not good for you either (see chart)!
So legal or illegal, psychoactive drugs demand caution.
NIDA provides lots of information about the different types of psychoactive drugs:
Did you know that of the top 22 substances teens abused across the country in 2011, 8 were prescription drugs often found in the family medicine cabinet? “Abuse” of prescription drugs includes taking them without a prescription, even if you’re taking them for medical reasons. It can also mean sharing your prescription drugs with friends or taking them in a way not intended, including to get high.
Most of the prescription drugs that teens abused were addictive painkillers not even on the list of drugs of abuse a decade ago! Some teens originally got these prescriptions for legitimate reasons, such as having their wisdom teeth pulled or experiencing sports injuries. But, unfortunately, many did not realize how dangerous prescription drugs can be when abused, and they wound up addicted or in the hospital.
We are the University High School Florida SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) Chapter, and the facts, as well as the prescription drug abuse problem in our home state, inspired us to become teen ambassadors for NIDA’s PEERx campaign about prescription drug abuse prevention.
The problem in our state is huge. Last year, prosecutors called Florida the “epicenter” of an epidemic of prescription drug abuse in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010, prescription painkiller sales per person were more than three times higher in Florida than in the state with the lowest sales per person (Illinois).
The SADD Florida teens’ philosophy is, “If the problem is mine, the solution also begins with me.” With that in mind, we were really excited to represent our fellow peers and SADD as the official “PEERx teen ambassadors” during the first-ever National Rx Drug Abuse Summit in Orlando, Florida.
We got a VIP experience during our entire time at the national summit! We met the Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Regina Benjamin; the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, R. Gil Kerlikowske; Congressman Hal Rogers from Kentucky; and the Director of NIDA, Dr. Nora Volkow.
Everyone was curious about our experiences and ideas. Stamping people’s hands at the exhibit with “CYP” helped to create curiosity about the “Choose Your Path” videos that we displayed at the PEERx booth. Throughout the 2 days, we talked to people who came to the PEERx booth and told them all about the NIDA campaign, which includes an Activity Guide for teens, fact sheets, cool designs you can download to make t-shirts (we were wearing them), and lots more.
We assisted 100 adults who attended a workshop about PEERx and helped provide them with a “teen perspective” on fun and creative ways to bring PEERx into their community organization or school. We were also interviewed by local television and newspaper reporters, who asked us about the PEERx initiative, the prescription drug abuse problem in our area, and what we are doing about it.
This was a fantastic experience that we will never forget. Thanks NIDA!!!
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.
Last year: Chicago.
This year: Los Angeles.
After receiving such a warm welcome from the SADD Nation last year, NIDA was excited to attend this year’s SADD National Conference in L.A. And just like last year, we had a booth and hosted a workshop—where we presented on NIDA’s PEERx prescription drug abuse prevention campaign.
The Prevention League
This year’s conference theme was “The Prevention League: Discover Your Power.” Teens, dressed as prevention superheroes, greeted conference attendees as they arrived. They helped set the tone for the conference, which mixed serious topics with fun activities—including a trip to Disneyland!
Through more than 40 workshops, motivational speakers, and skill-building activities, SADD members heard about some of the critical issues teens face today, like those related to safe driving, sexual health, and drug abuse. The conference helped teens recognize their power to rise above negative influences, while letting them learn from other student leaders about how to promote healthy and positive life choices among their peers.
PEERx: Peer-to-Peer Prevention
The conference theme and focus on peer-to-peer learning was the perfect fit for NIDA’s PEERx campaign. PEERx provides teens with science-based information about the harmful effects of prescription drug abuse on the brain and body. The campaign encourages teens to engage in fun prevention activities with their peers.
We demonstrated some of those activities during our workshop to give the SADD teens examples of fun things they could do in their own schools or as part of community programs. We created a classroom CSI (using storyboards instead of actors) and showed the PEERx Choose Your Path videos, where teens could make choices for the main character and see how the story played out.
Thank You, SADD National
Thank you again, SADD National, for inviting NIDA to your big show. We were excited to meet so many teens who truly care about their peers.
If you attended the conference and dropped by our booth, please say hello in comments and keep in touch. We’d love to hear if you plan to host any PEERx activities in your schools. If you do, we may feature you here on the Sara Bellum Blog.
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.