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Prescription Drug Abuse by American Teens Up One-Third in Five Years

Prescription drug abuse by teens appears to have increased by 33 percent in a scant five years, according to a survey launched in 2012 and published in 2013 by The Partnership at, in conjunction with the MetLife Foundation.

The survey interviewed 3,900 teenagers in grades 9-12, who attended public, private and parochial schools. Eight hundred parents were also interviewed at home. The survey covered the period between 2008 and 2012.

Close to 1 in 4 students, 24 percent — or more than 5 million teens — admitted to abusing prescription drugs at least once. Some of the more commonly abused drugs were Ritalin and Adderall, both of which are used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It may surprise some to learn that almost one-third of the parents interviewed believed that Ritalin or Adderall could improve a child’s school performance — even if their child had not been diagnosed with ADHD.

The survey also found that twenty percent of teens who admitted to abusing prescription drugs said that they were younger than 14 the first time that they did so.

Many parents and teens said they believed that prescription drugs were safer than street drugs. Medical professionals caution parents and their children not to make this false assumption, as prescription drugs can pose some of the same problems as illegal drugs, including addiction and long-term physiologic harm.

Researchers also found that close to 80 percent of all teens had discussed alcohol and marijuana with their parents; almost one-third had discussed crack/cocaine with their parents. But only between 14 and 16 percent had discussed painkiller/prescription drug abuse with parents. That’s despite the fact that 56 percent of the teens kept their prescription drugs in their parents’ medicine cabinets.

Almost half of all parents admitted that they did not restrict their child’s use of the child’s prescription drugs at home, and 1 in 5 parents said that they had in fact at some point given their children a prescription drug for which the child had no prescription.

Survey authors recommend that parents establish control of prescription drug use by locking up medicine cabinets and tossing expired prescriptions. Parents should also discuss with their children the dangers of prescription drug misuse. It goes without saying that parents should lead by example. After all, you are your child’s greatest influence.

With our modern increased interest in reducing environmental and chemical pollutants, and the growing interest in letting nature nourish us as well as heal us, parents would do well to consider whether a physical condition, either the parent’s or the child’s, truly needs laboratory chemicals to be treated.

ADHD in a child, for instance, could respond well to a natural, low-sugar diet. Depression and attention-deficit disorders could respond to getting more sleep at night, and to getting regular exercise. Time spent with the family (including outings and dinners at the dinner table) is a way to ward off feelings of alienation in your teen and boost feelings that they are loved and that they are a valued member of the family; this will boost their self-confidence and improve communication between you and your teen.

Instead of turning to a pharmaceutical company, you and your child can prompt your own bodies to manufacture the necessary, natural chemicals that will promote good health and feelings of well-being.

If you combine getting enough rest and regular exercise, spending family time, and eating a healthy diet that celebrates the abundance of nature while it avoids artificial chemicals and processed foods, you and your teen will only feel better and be healthier, now and in the future.

By Eirian Hallinan

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