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Why Teens Have Transitioned From Street Drugs to Prescription Drugs

A recent study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) showed a 23.2 percent decline in teen use of illicit drugs like marijuana, crack and cocaine over the past five years. Yet recreational use of prescription medications such as the painkiller Vicodin has steadily increased over the past five years-and remains high. In fact, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), each day, approximately 2,500 teens in the United States try a prescription painkiller to get high for the first time.

Why the transition from street drugs to prescription drugs? One of the most important reasons is that national campaigns against drug use, such as the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign (NYADMC) out of the ONDCP, have until just recently, focused primarily upon illegal/street drug abuse. This focus has successfully put street drugs on parent's radar, and has made teens understand how much they stand to lose by using these substances: self respect and that of family and friends, opportunities for college admissions and scholarships-among other things.

But fewer parents and kids know that prescription drugs are dangerous, too. Teens often perceive something that can be obtained easily as relatively harmless. And prescription drugs are everywhere-in the medicine cabinet at home and at friend's houses-even on the Internet. There are many sites that have information about prescription drugs for would be abusers-information such as positive effects, side effects, and hangover/day after information.

Even parents tend to perceive prescription drugs as safer to abuse than street drugs, and only about 30 percent of parents talk to their children about the risks of these drugs.

What to do? The NYADMC has recently launched a national campaign to prevent prescription and OTC drug abuse by teens. It will involve television, print and online advertising, a report to highlight the problem of OTC and prescription drug abuse among teens, and cooperation with community anti-drug groups and other medical and health groups in an effort to reach parents and other adults as well as teens with the message.

Parents can help by becoming educated about the problem of prescription and OTC drug abuse and educating their children. There should be clear rules for teens about all drug use. Parents should also safeguard medications at home and ask friends and family to do so as well. Most importantly, parents need to be a good role model in regard to medication use, such as taking medications only as directed and needed, not sharing medications with others, and discarding old or unused medications promptly.