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Teens popping pills more than other drugs

Boca Raton News, January 9, 2006 by Nicol Jenkins

Less smoke. More pills.

That's today's teen, according to a recent study.

And the average teen doesn't have to look any further than the bathroom.

The lure of the family medicine cabinet helped nearly one in 10 high school seniors to try prescription painkillers last year, the study said, even as the generation continued turning away, at least slightly, from smoking and many other drugs.

The decline in illicit drug use by teens was modest but continued a trend, according to a US government annual study of drug use by eighth-, tenth- and 12th-graders. Teen cigarette smoking fell to its lowest level since the survey began; eighth-graders showed the first increase since a 1996 survey.

Dr. Sherrie Raz, a Doctor of Clinical Psychology believes the statistics add up.

"I hear that that's what is going on," said Raz, who has a private practice in Boca Raton.

Dr. John McCauley, who has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, said the problem stems from physicians over medicating patients and a flood of prescription drug advertisements.

"Physicians are way over prescribing. You go in and have an ache and they are willing to give Xanax and muscle relaxers. Also, the pharmacy companies spend 3 billion a year on advertising. We are inundated with solutions to problems by using drugs," McCauley said. "It's become a drug culture. If you have a problem, you take a pill. Parents' medicine cabinets are filled with prescription drugs. And it's a lot easier for teens to go into the bathroom and open a medicine cabinet than to go out on the street and buy dope."

Boca teen Alex Schosheim said he's seen drug use among teens.

"Within the last four years I've been in high school, I've seen the same steady use of drugs, smoking, alcohol and pain killers. I haven't seen a change," Schosheim said. "Freshman or sophomore year of high school teens may try a sip of beer. But as kids get older, they may experiment more. And that may turn to something such as Xanax or as extreme as cocaine."

Schosheim, 17, thinks easy access plays a role in an increased use of prescription pills.

"Anti-anxiety medications like Ritalin is prescribed a lot to teens because ADD is diagnosed so much," Schosheim said.

Dr. Raz mirrors that response.

"It's highly accessible. All they have to do is go into their mother's medicine cabinet and take them out," Raz said. She has seen an increase in teen use of Xanax, alcohol and Percocet.

Xanax, known to teens, as 'the Bar' is the most commonly abused prescription drug, Dr. McCauley said. He said teens are also mixing prescription drugs with other drugs and alcohol, or a 'fruit cocktail'.

Warning signs

Dr. Raz said it is difficult to notice warning signs of teen drug use. But she said parents should talk to children about the negative affects.

"Children have a way of being able to disguise everything they're doing today. But if you see a child slurring their words, not looking right or acting differently, you have to pursue it," Raz said.

Dr. McCauley believes most parents won't notice drug use at home because there already is miscommunication. One factor that plays a role is 'busy' parents.
"[These] parents aren't going to have a clue," he said.

Why don't teens stop using?

It's a dependency issue, Dr. Raz said.

"When a child has a serious problem they can't resolve, they tend to turn towards the first thing that makes them feel better. And [prescription drugs] are a quick fix," Raz said.   

Schosheim believes teens are blinded to the effects.

"They think that they're not harming them as much because it's a legally sold drug," he said. "They can't stop. Once they start doing it, they don't see the side affects until it's too late."

However, Dr. McCauley believes teen drug use stems from family instability.

"It's a family problem, not an adolescent problem. If there is dysfunction within the family, the kid is dysfunctional in some aspects," he said.

Adverse Effects

Raz said a lack of concentration could occur among teens using prescription drugs. However, she said there are many more adverse affects.

"It destroys brain cells. They are not able to function in the real world and they lose relationships," Raz said.


A 2005 Monitoring the Future survey of nearly 50,000 teens found that 21.4 percent of eighth-graders had used some illicit drug in his or her lifetime, down from 21.5 percent a year earlier. For 10th-graders, it was 38.2 percent, down from 39.8 percent, and for 12th-graders it was 50.4 percent, down from 51.1 percent.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the University of Michigan released survey results last week. Overall statistics show a very slight decline in illicit drug use among teens, but the use of prescription drugs like sedatives and the narcotic painkiller Oxycontin have continued to increase.

In the survey category of narcotics other than heroin, the use of such substances as prescription painkillers steadily increased from 1992 to 2002 and there has been little change since then. In a release from the University of Michigan, one of the authors and lead researcher, Lloyd Johnston said, "That makes this one of the few classes of drugs in which we have not seen improvement, after a substantial rise in use."

Sedative use also increased, including Valium, Xanax and Librium. In 2005, nearly 8 percent of 12-grade students reported using sedatives non-medically last year.

Nora B. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, called that continuing decline "quite remarkable news."

But, she said, abuse of prescription drugs by teens is a growing problem.

Use of the painkiller OxyContin grew from 4 percent to 5.5 percent of high school seniors from 2002 to 2005, she said, and their use of Vicodin has been consistently more than 9 percent, clocking in at 9.5 percent in 2005.

Only marijuana topped prescription drugs in teen use, she said, and that has been declining. For 2005, 44.8 percent of 12th-graders said they had used marijuana, down 0.9 percentage points from 2004. The total was 34.1 percent for 10th-graders, down 1 percentage point. The 16.5 percent among eighth-graders was up 0.2 percentage points, ending a steady decline since 1996.

"The survey results expose the abysmal failure that is the War on drugs," said Scarlett Swerdlow, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Parental Responsibility

Parents should take a more active role in informing teens about negative affects of drug use, Raz believes.

"It's important from the beginning to have them learn financial, emotional and educational responsibility and have goals. Parents must talk to their kids and make sure they know what they're doing," she said.

Nicol Jenkins can be reached at njenkins@bocanews.com or 561-549-0844.