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
This week is the first annual National Prevention Week (NPW)—a celebration of what people and organizations do in their communities to prevent drug and alcohol abuse and to promote mental and emotional well-being. We want to celebrate every teen that makes healthy choices when it comes to drug abuse and mental health.
How Are You Taking Action?
Most teens don’t use illegal drugs or drink alcohol. Instead, they focus on their futures, school, hobbies, family, sports, clubs, etc. You can participate in National Prevention Week by spreading the word that most teens make healthy choices and by encouraging others to think twice before taking risks with their health and safety.
Each day during the week, National Prevention Week focuses on a different theme:
Monday: Prevention of Underage Drinking
Tuesday: Prevention of Prescription Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Use
Wednesday: Prevention of Alcohol Abuse
Thursday: Suicide Prevention
Friday: Promotion of Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Well-Being
You can set a positive example for your friends and family by posting a message on Facebook about your commitment to a healthy lifestyle, focusing on the daily theme. Or, tweet about the daily theme using the hashtag #NPW2012. It only takes one person to make a difference!
Take the Prevention Pledge on Facebook
Along with setting a good example, you can do other things to prevent drug and alcohol abuse and promote mental health in your own life and the lives of those you love. You could talk with someone who’s having a difficult time, or encourage your friends to eat healthy and exercise. Read and take NPW’s Prevention Pledge on Facebook to learn more about ways you can help.
Share NPW’s Official PSA Developed by Teens
In February 2011, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration challenged teens to create an original 15- or 30-second public service announcement (PSA) that showed how young people are working to prevent drug and alcohol abuse and promote mental health in their communities. The winning PSA, "I Am More Than Meets the Eye,” was made by a group of young adults and teenagers from Richmond, California. Inspire more teens to help their communities by sharing this PSA on your social media pages:
What will you do to celebrate National Prevention Week? Is your school or community participating? We’d like to hear about it in your comments.
First off, big thanks to teens and adults everywhere who took the time during NIDA’s first-ever National Drug Facts Week to learn new facts about drug abuse.
After a week full of activities around the country, what can teens take away?
At the center of the week was our annual “Chat Day,” which gave high school students around the country a chance to ask NIDA scientists their questions directly…we got more than 5,000! Here’s a sample?
Q: Does genetics play a big role in addiction?
A: That’s a sophisticated question….I sense future scientists. Research suggests that about 50-60% of the risk for drug addiction is due to your genes, and that about 40% is due to environmental influences (like access to drugs, media influences, drug use among friends).Scientists are now starting to identify some of the exact genes that cause this influence. That is giving them clues to how to develop new medications to help addicted people recover.
Of course, no matter what your genes are, you won't get addicted if you just don't take drugs.
Q. Does every teen take drugs?
A. You might think so from watching tv and movies, but you would be wrong. Most teens do NOT take drugs. In 2009, little more than a third of 12th graders reported using an illegal drug in the past year, mainly marijuana. Fewer 10th graders and even fewer 8th graders reported using an illegal drug. It’s a good question you ask, because many teens tend to want to do what other teens do, and if they think everyone else is using, that might influence them to use. That would be making two mistakes.
Q: How can prescription drugs be fatal to us?
A. Pretty much by how they can affect blood flow in your body (like blood vessels getting narrower), or how the brain tells the heart to beat and the lungs to expand and contract. Several medications are ”depressants,” and combined with other drugs, especially alcohol, can shut down that breathing machinery. That’s why these kinds of drugs have warning labels. The key is to only use prescription medications under the care and direction of your doctor. They can be life-saving that way. The problems come when you abuse them or take someone else's prescription.
Q: How does marijuana get you high specifically
A. The exact nature of what ”high” is still up in the air, but here is some of what we know. The active ingredient in marijuana is THC, which causes cellular reactions in the brain that ultimately lead to the high that users get. THC acts on what are called “cannabinoid receptors,” found in parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thoughts, concentration, time perception, and coordinated movement. This is why some 'weed' smokers experience problems with memory, concentration, and coordination. And some marijuana users, about 9%, get addicted.
Know the Facts, Think before You Act!
Teens and adult sponsors organized events to shatter drug myths from California to Florida to Maine and everywhere in between. At Rockville High School, in Rockville, Maryland, teens produced this public service announcement advertising National Drug Facts Chat Day. http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/schools/rockvillehs/Ramvision/index.html
Other events included the following:
- The Boys and Girls Club’s family advocacy network in Sulphur Springs, Texas, hosted a symposium for parents, caregivers, and youth of all ages, giving them the chance to ask questions about drugs.
- YOUth CARES of El Cajon Valley, California, shared drug facts during morning announcements for middle and high school kids and sponsored a carnival for middle school, high school, and college students. One review called “a great event,” adding that it was “encouraging to see so many teenagers taking action against substance use, and promoting health and fun!”
- NIDA held a CyberShoutout to kick off National Drug Facts Week. All over the country, people blogged, tweeted, and posted to Facebook in support of “shattering the myths” about drug abuse and addiction. Click here to see what people had to say!
This first-ever Drug Facts Week couldn’t have been such a success without your help! But we’ve only just begun: watch this blog for more facts, games, and quizzes to get the drug facts.
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.
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.
If you’re taking any medications—either those prescribed by a doctor or over-the-counter cold and allergy medicine—it’s not a good idea to drink alcohol. Often, the medication label will warn you not to—because of the possible dangerous side effects. Read the label! You’ll find lots of good info, like:
- The medication’s active ingredients, including ingredient amounts in each dose
- The medication’s purpose and uses
- Dosage instructions—when and how to take it
- Specific warnings about interactions (with alcohol and other drugs)
- Activities to avoid
- The medication’s inactive ingredients (important to help people avoid an allergic reaction)
Because the drug label information can be confusing, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about what side effects you might experience and not to mix medications and alcohol. Here’s what can happen:
- Drinking alcohol while ibuprofen (Motrin) is in your system could cause stomach upset, stomach bleeding, and even liver damage.
- If you’re taking a sleep medication like Ambien, alcohol could cause increased drowsiness, difficulty breathing, and memory problems.
- Mixing caffeine and energy drinks with alcohol is also a bad idea since their opposite effects (alcohol is a depressant, caffeine a stimulant) can fool you into drinking more than your body can handle.
Here is a list of many common medications and what can happen if the user drinks alcohol while taking them. Some of them may surprise 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.
What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “depressants?” Maybe “depressed” or “sad?” But the drugs called depressants aren’t called that because they’re depressing in the emotional sense.
Depressants slow down (or “depress”) the normal activity that goes on in the brain. Alcohol is a depressant.
Doctors often prescribe central nervous system (CNS) depressants to patients who are anxious or can’t sleep. When used as directed, CNS depressants are safe and helpful for people who need them.
Types of CNS Depressants
CNS depressants can be divided into three main groups:
- Barbiturates, which are used to treat some forms of epilepsy
- Benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax), which can be used to treat severe stress, panic attacks, convulsions, and sleep disorders
- Sleep medications (Ambien, Sonata, Lunesta), which, as the name suggests, are used to help people with diagnosed sleep problems
How They Work
Most CNS depressants affect the brain in the same way—they enhance the activity of the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is a neurotransmitter, one of the naturally occurring chemicals in the brain that sends messages between cells. GABA works by slowing down brain activity.
Although different classes of CNS depressants work in unique ways, they ultimately increase GABA activity, which produces a drowsy or calming effect.
Effects When Abused
CNS depressants can be addictive* and should be used only as prescribed. Otherwise, they can bring about major health problems, including addiction. Combining them with alcohol or other drugs like pain medications can lead to slowed breathing and heart rate, and even death.
Find out more about depressants from this NIDA fact sheet (PDF, 718kb).
(*Addiction is when a person compulsively seeks out the drug and cannot control their need for it, even in the face of negative consequences.)
Child actresses turned luxury fashion designers Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen recently announced the release of patent Nile crocodile skin backpacks, some of which are covered with fake prescription drugs, as part of their fashion line.
These limited-edition backpacks—only 12 were made—were designed by renowned artist Damien Hirst and will cost an astronomical $55,000 each.
Prescription Drugs as Fashion?
While the price might be outrageous, what about the message? Prescription and over-the-counter drugs are already among the most commonly abused drugs by 12th graders—does this bag glamorize the problem?
In an interesting twist, the retailer has said that a portion of the proceeds from these bags will be donated to UNICEF—a children’s rights organization that works on issues such as immunizations, childhood development, gender rights, and HIV/AIDS transmission around the world—but it is unclear how much will be donated.
What do you think? Fashion is about creativity and expressing one’s individuality, and in the world of couture and high fashion, designers like to push the envelope…so is this “fashion statement” from Mary Kate and Ashley enough to influence how someone thinks about drug abuse? Or, is a purse just a purse? Does the fact that a portion of the proceeds will go to charity influence your opinion?
For more information about prescription drug abuse, check out PEERx.
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.
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.
It's that time of year again-time to announce the results of NIDA's annual Monitoring the Future survey. For the 34th year, researchers went into classrooms all over the country and asked young people to fill out surveys about their drug use. This year 46,097 8th, 10th and 12th graders participated—that's a lot of teens! As the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this is one of my favorite times of the year because we hold a big news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC to let the public know what the researchers learned. Here's the news this year, good and bad.
The good news is that methamphetamine use is at its lowest since the survey started tracking it 10 years ago. At that time, 4.7% of teens said they had tried meth in the previous month, but this year, just 1.2% said they had used it. Teens are also smoking cigarettes less than they used to. About 1 in 10 high school seniors say they smoke every day, compared to 4 in 10 in 1999. This drop translates to longer, healthier lives for today's teens.
But of course the survey also shows some not-so-good things. So while cigarette smoking is down, it looks as if more kids are chewing tobacco. Believe it or not, more than 6% of 10th graders say they use smokeless tobacco. Smokeless tobacco products contain many toxins, as well as high levels of nicotine (3-4 times more than cigarettes), which makes them addictive. Not to mention what it does to your teeth and breath. Here are some more facts.
Also, too many teens are still abusing prescription drugs, which is not good. Unless a medicine is prescribed for you and you take it the way your doctor tells you to, prescription pills can be as dangerous as street drugs. In fact, more people are dying from accidental overdoses of prescription drugs than from cocaine and heroin combined. We have done some blogs about this in the past.
And for the first time, NIDA's Monitoring the Future survey asked 12th graders about their use of salvia, an herb common to southern Mexico and Central and South America—5.7% of high school seniors had abused it in the past year. People who abuse salvia typically experience hallucinations or episodes that resemble a type of mental illness known as psychosis (sigh-ko-sis), which can really be scary.
For more information on this year's survey results, go to the NIDA home page and click on the "Monitoring the Future" link.
This is a guest post from the Director of NIDA, Dr. Nora Volkow.
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.
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.
Teens have a lot of questions about drugs, which is why NIDA holds an annual Drug Facts Chat Day to explain the science behind drug abuse. At the last Chat Day, “casa grande” from Casa Grande Union High School in Arizona asked: What are opioids?
Opioids, also known as “opiates,” are a class of drugs with powerful pain-relieving properties. So, some are prescribed by doctors like Percocet, Vicodin, and codeine for people who need them. But then there are also street drugs like heroin that are also opioids—so yeah, Vicodin and heroin are in the same class of drugs!
When prescribed by a doctor, opioids can be used in a responsible way to reduce pain, treat diarrhea, or control coughing. Inside our bodies, opioids link to receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and gut, much like pieces in a puzzle. When they do, they can block the experience of pain. For example, morphine is sometimes given to people before or after surgery. However, opioids can also affect parts of the brain that control feelings of pleasure, producing a sense of euphoria that makes people want to take them again and again even when they’re not in pain. When people keep taking them like that, opioids can actually change the way the brain works, causing strong cravings that are of part of having an addiction.
NIDA scientists have put together a lot of information on opiates – learn more at Mind Over Matter: Opiates, Research Report Series - Prescription Drugs: Abuse and Addiction, NIDA InfoFacts: Heroin.
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.
Imagine you are a teen with ADHD. It’s hard for you to focus in class, your mind wanders everywhere, and even though you want to do well in class you’d much rather be outside shooting hoops. Although you take notes, it’s hard for you to remember the teacher’s instructions. So after a medical evaluation, your doctor prescribes stimulants to help you focus. That’s what happened to NIDA’s second place Addiction Science Award winner, Kevin Knight, a 17-year-old junior at Collegiate High School in Niceville, Florida. Based on his own experience, Kevin wanted to know if there were other ways besides medication to train his brain to focus.
So he decided to take a scientific look at computer programs designed to improve focus and memory with his project, "Improving ADHD Treatment: A Comparison of Stimulant Medication Treatment for Children with ADHD."
Computerized Cognitive Training of Attention and Working Memory, and the Combination of the Two," took a lot of work (even more than coming up with that title!) He worked with doctors to find teenage volunteers with ADHD to see if they could improve their focus and memory by playing computer “brain games.”
Kevin was surprised by what he learned. The best outcomes came with kids who took their medication AND used the computer programs. They had better focus and better memory. Kevin even tested himself, and improved his own ability to focus. This suggests that computer games used with medications could be part of an effective approach for treating ADHD.
Why was this given an “Addiction Science” award? Because the medications prescribed for ADHD, such as Ritalin and Adderall, are stimulants, and stimulants can be abused. Some kids even give or sell the pills to their friends, which can be dangerous. For more information on stimulants taken for ADHD, check out http://www.nida.nih.gov/infofacts/ADHD.html.
NIDA’s Addiction Science award is given at the annual Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), which was in San Jose this year. For more information on NIDA’s 3 winners, see NIDA’s news release at http://www.nida.nih.gov/newsroom/10/NR5-14.html
What is part of your personal experience that might be the basis of a cool science fair project?
How Many Teens Actually Smoke, Drink, or Do Drugs?
It’s natural to be curious about your peers—especially when it comes to things that we know can be dangerous, like alcohol and drug use. You’ve probably heard rumors of kids drinking beer at a party or may have a friend who smokes cigarettes.
You may wonder how many teens actually smoke, drink, or do drugs. It’s a question we hear frequently from teens. During NIDA’s 2011 Drug Facts Chat Day, students from the around the country asked NIDA scientists questions such as:
- “How many teens smoke every year?”
- “Has the number of people who abuse drugs increased or decreased in the past 5 years? And why?”
- “What percent of teens has tried drugs?”
- “How many kids are doing drugs?”
In December 2011, NIDA released the 2011 Monitoring the Future Study, and it seems that more teens are making better decisions when it comes to smoking and alcohol use, but not so much when it comes to using marijuana and abusing prescription drugs.
Here’s a glimpse at the most recent trends in teen drug and alcohol use.
Cigarette and Alcohol Use at Historic Low
Teen smoking has declined in all three grades included in the study—grades 8, 10, and 12. Still, almost 19 percent of 12th graders reported current (past-month) cigarette use.
This decline shows that more teens realize the harm smoking does to your body and are making the decision not to start. Also, teens’ attitudes about smoking have changed. They increasingly prefer to date nonsmokers and believe smoking to be a dirty habit.
Likewise, among nearly all grades, trends over the past 5 years showed significant decreases in alcohol use—including first-time use, occasional use, daily use, and binge drinking. As with smoking, this decline may be the result of more teens understanding the risk of drinking alcohol and disapproving of this behavior.
Marijuana Use Continues To Rise
Unlike cigarettes and alcohol, marijuana use is increasing. Among 12th graders, 36.4 percent reported using marijuana at least once in the past year, up from 31.5 percent 5 years ago. This accompanies a decrease in the number of 12th graders who perceive that smoking marijuana is harmful. For example, only 22.7 percent of high school seniors saw great risk in smoking marijuana occasionally, compared to 25.9 percent 5 years ago.
Of course, we know the risks: marijuana can affect memory, judgment, and perception, and it can harm a teen’s developing brain.
Prescription Drug Abuse Remains Steady
Prescription drug abuse hasn’t changed much since 2010. Abuse of the opioid painkiller Vicodin and the nonmedical use of Adderall and Ritalin, stimulants meant to treat ADHD, remained about the same as last year. Also, the abuse of the opioid painkiller OxyContin remained steady for the past 5 years across all 3 grades surveyed.
To drive this trend downward, NIDA recently launched PEERx, a prescription drug abuse awareness campaign that gives teens science-based information about the harmful effects of prescription drug abuse on the brain and body.
When teens understand the health risks of abusing drugs, they do it less. So, tell us, how would you convince your peers that marijuana use and prescription drug abuse are harmful?
These estimates come from the Monitoring the Future Study's national surveys of approximately 47,000 students in about 400 secondary schools each year. The survey was conducted in classrooms earlier this year. View all of the 2011 data.
At NIDA’s Drug Facts Chat Day, we get great questions from teens all over the country about drugs. Here’s one from “hhentze,” representing Junction City High School in Oregon:
What drug is most often used by teens in the USA?
Every year since 1975, the Monitoring the Future Study has surveyed teens to better understand their drug use rates, attitudes, and beliefs. Looking over the past 10 years, data show that more and more teens are saying no to drugs, period. They are not even trying them once.
Still, to answer the question, statistics from 2009 (PDF, 362.76KB) show that the drug most often abused by teens in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades is alcohol, followed by marijuana. The third most abused drug varies by grade—for 8th graders, it’s inhalants. For 10th and 12th graders, it’s Vicodin (a prescription medication for pain). Here’s a little more info:
So, even though alcohol might be the drug most abused by teens, the good news is that the number of teens who report drinking in the last 30 days has gradually declined by as much as 40% over the past 35 years. You go, Gen Y!
Seems marijuana use is slowly creeping upwards after a steady decline that lasted almost 10 years. What’s up with that? The answer may have to do with the fact that young people are seeing marijuana as less risky than before and are more accepting of its use in general.
- Inhalants and Vicodin
With both inhalants and Vicodin, the rates of abuse among teens are about the same as they have been for the past 2-3 years. That’s pretty positive, especially since the study only recently started looking at trends in prescription drugs.
Carry out your own mini-study and see what drugs friends, relatives, or teachers think are most often abused by teens. Feel free to share what you found out with us in the comments. Spread the word, and help set the record straight.
Most people are familiar with taking prescription medications like antibiotics when they get sick. Some people also are prescribed medication to help with a problem like depression or ADHD. Did you know that some (not all) drug addictions actually can be treated with prescription medications, too? It may seem odd that someone addicted to a drug like heroin would start taking another drug so they can stop using heroin. But, research shows that some people respond very well to what is called “medication-assisted treatment.”
Why Does Medication Help?
If a person is addicted to an opioid (like heroin or prescription pain relievers), medication can help him or her get back to a better state of mind—beyond just thinking about seeking and using the drug. It also can help ease withdrawal and cravings, which can give a person who is addicted the chance to focus on changes needed to recover.
Taking medication for opioid addiction is like taking medication to control heart disease or diabetes. It is not the same as substituting one addictive drug for another. Used properly, the medication does not create a new addiction.
How Does Medication Work?
Medications to treat opioid addiction (like methadone and buprenorphine) affect the same brain areas as the drugs of abuse they are opposing (like heroin and OxyContin)—but in different ways. Anti-addiction medications “trick” the brain into thinking it is still getting the drug, which stops withdrawal. They help the person feel normal, not high, and reduce drug cravings.
Alcohol dependence also may be treated with medication. Three oral medications and one that is injected have been shown to help patients reduce drinking, avoid relapse to heavy drinking, or stop drinking altogether. Of course, these medications aren’t available over the counter at your local pharmacy. They are dispensed at treatment centers or by primary care doctors approved to prescribe them.
Medication isn’t the only treatment for opioid or alcohol dependence—adding counseling or therapy can help, and the support of family and friends is often crucial to a person’s success. See NIDA’s new treatment resource, Seeking Drug Abuse Treatment: Know What To Ask.
To learn more about medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction, read the brochure, Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction: Facts for Families and Friends.
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.
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.
The Shoutout is gathering volume and the message is coming through loud and clear: JUST THINK TWICE!
Myth: If I smoke cigarettes now and then, I won’t get addicted.
- Think twice: Each puff of a cigarette gives a smoker about 1 to 2 milligrams of nicotine. Although that may not seem like much, it is enough to make someone addicted. Learn more.
Myth: Huffing – like sniffing Sharpies or household cleaners – really doesn’t do anything bad; just gives me a quick high.
- Think twice: In the short term, these chemicals can cause dizziness, loss of consciousness, bad mood swings, and headaches. In the long term, toxic fumes can take the place of oxygen in the blood, which can damage your brain and other organs. Learn more.
Myth: Prescription drugs can’t be dangerous if a doctor prescribes them.
- Think twice ADHD medications like Adderall can cause increased heart rate and blood pressure, psychosis, and seizures if they’re abused; pain medications like Vicodin can cause respiratory depression and arrest, and even death, particularly when combined with alcohol. Learn more.
Throughout the day on November 8, watch our Sara Bellum Blog, where we will showcase as many shoutouts as we find. Follow us on Twitter (#drugfacts2010) and check out NIDA’s National Drug Facts Week Facebook page. On November 9, check out Chat Day as we shout it out for teens everywhere – First, get the facts on drugs. Then choose health.