Join Together recently interviewed a nationally recognized scholar on prescription drug abuse and adolescents. Following are some excerpts from that interview:
In response to a question about why prescription drugs are becoming a problem among teens:
It is not entirely clear why prescription medication misuse and abuse has increased, while other forms of drug use have decreased. However, several issues appear to be interacting to create this problem. These include: increased availability due to increases in prescribing controlled medications to adolescents; perceptions that prescription drugs generally are safer than street drugs; changing attitudes toward the use of medications because of direct-to-consumer marketing (DTC) and the Internet, where adolescents can quickly learn about medications and how to use them to self-treat and get high.
In response to a question about the role parents play in preventing prescription drug abuse:
I believe that parental monitoring is the “key” to reducing the nonmedical use of prescription medications in ages 12 to 17 years. Our data show that general parental supervision is associated with lower rates of marijuana, alcohol and tobacco use; however this is not true for the nonmedical use of prescription medication. We speculate reasons for this: (1) parents are unaware of the potential problem and do not supervise the storage of controlled medications (and thus, they are available to household members) and (2) parents engage in nonmedical use and do not consider it a problem.
In response to a question about the challenges of preventing prescription drug abuse in comparison to preventing illegal drug abuse:
This question is difficult to answer because of a lack of prospective data. It is well established that illicit drug use moves in social and behavioral patterns, with individual drugs gaining and losing popularity among adolescents. However, this ebb and flow is not true for alcohol, which remains a very popular substance.
Because prescription medications share social characteristics with alcohol (e.g. legal for certain groups, relatively safe in small doses, etc.), nonmedical use may be more similar to alcohol misuse/abuse. Our society promotes the legal use of both alcohol and controlled medications; we are one of a very few countries that allow the television marketing of controlled medications.