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Generation Rx: National Study Confirms Abuse of Prescription and Over-the-Counter Drugs 'Normalized' Among Teens

News Release: May 16, 2006

  • - Today's Teens More Likely to Abuse Rx and OTC Medications Than Many Illegal Drugs -
  • - Teens Think Abusing Medicines to Get High is 'Safer' Than Using Illegal Drugs -
  • - First-Ever National Education Campaign Targeting Rx and OTC Abuse Launches Today -

WASHINGTON, May 16 /PRNewswire/ -- The intentional abuse of prescription (Rx) and over-the-counter (OTC) medications to get high is now an entrenched behavior among today's teen population, according to a national study released by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America®.

he Partnership's 18th annual study of teen drug use and attitudes confirms that Generation Rx has arrived as an alarming number of today's teenagers are more likely to have abused Rx and OTC medications than a variety of illegal drugs like Ecstasy, cocaine, crack and meth. Nearly one in five teens (19 percent or 4.5 million) report abusing prescription medications to get high; and one in 10 (10 percent or 2.4 million) report abusing cough medicine to get high.

"This study removes any doubt that intentional abuse of medications among teens is a real issue threatening the health and well being of American families," said Steve Pasierb, president & CEO of the Partnership. "We have a situation where a widespread and dangerous teen behavior has become normalized and has found its way into our homes. These findings should serve as a wake-up call to parents that their teen is facing a drug landscape that did not exist when they were teens. The abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs has taken root among America's teens and the behavior is not registering with parents. Unless we all take action, it is a problem that will only get worse."

Released today in Washington, D.C., the 2005 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS) surveyed more than 7,300 teenagers in grades 7-12 (margin of error: +/-1.5 percent). Top-line findings from this nationally projectable tracking study show the culture of "pharming" -- abusing a host of medicines and chemical products intentionally to get high -- has established itself among America's teen population:

     * Nearly one in five (19 percent or 4.5 million) teens has tried
       prescription medication (pain relievers such as Vicodin and OxyContin;
       stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall) to get high;

     * One in 10 (10 percent or 2.4 million) teens report abusing cough
       medicine to get high; and

     * Abuse of Rx and OTC medications is on par or higher than the abuse of
       illegal drugs such as Ecstasy (8 percent), cocaine/crack (10 percent),
       methamphetamine (8 percent) and heroin (5 percent).

"There is a world of difference between good medicine and bad behavior," said Dr. Michael Maves, executive vice president & CEO of the American Medical Association and Partnership board member. "When these medicines are abused -- when they are used for anything other than their intended and approved purpose -- they can be every bit as dangerous as illegal street drugs."

Teens Think Intentionally Abusing Medicines to Get High is 'Safer' Than Using Illegal Drugs

According to the data, an alarming number of teens have a false sense of security about the safety of abusing Rx and OTC medications:

     * Two in five teens (40 percent or 9.4 million) agree that Rx medicines,
       even if they are not prescribed by a doctor, are "much safer" to use
       than illegal drugs;

     * Nearly one-third of teens (31 percent or 7.3 million) believe there's
       "nothing wrong" with using Rx medicines without a prescription "once in
       a while;"

     * Nearly three out of 10 teens (29 percent or 6.8 million) believe
       prescription pain relievers -- even if not prescribed by a doctor --
       are not addictive; and

     * More than half of teens (55 percent or 13 million) don't strongly agree
       that using cough medicines to get high is risky.

The study also found teens believe a key driver for abusing prescription pain relievers is their widespread availability and easy access. According to the data, more than three in five teens say Rx pain relievers are easy to get from parents' medicine cabinets; half of teens say they're easy to get through other people's prescriptions; and more than half of teens say pain relievers are "available everywhere;" 43 percent of teens believe pain relievers are cheap and 35 percent believe they are safer to use than illegal drugs.

"What we have here is a case of misinformation and poor attitudes -- teens seeing few health risks associated with intentional abuse -- teamed with easy access at home and via the Internet. Together it's a potentially lethal combination," said Pasierb.

Parents Completely Unaware of Teens' Intentional Abuse of Medications

Parents are crucial in helping prevent this behavior, but are largely unaware and feel ill-equipped to respond. Parents must educate themselves and get through to their kids:


     * Kids who learn a lot about the risks of drugs at home are up to 50
       percent less likely to use drugs;

     * Nine out of 10 parents of teens (92 percent or 22 million) say they
       have talked to their teen about the dangers of drugs, yet fewer than
       one-third of teens (31 percent or 7.4 million) say they "learn a lot
       about the risks of drugs" from their parents.

     * While three out of five parents report discussing drugs like marijuana
       "a lot" with their children, only a third of parents report discussing
       the risks of using prescription medicines or non-prescription cold or
       cough medicine to get high.

"Today's cohort of parents is the most drug-experienced in history, but they do not understand this new drug abuse behavior among their teens," said Roy Bostock, chairman of the Partnership. "They are looking for the classic signs of illegal drug abuse and are missing this trend. Parents need to be aware that the drugs their teens abuse today, including medicines, are not the drugs from decades past. Only through education and parental involvement can this trend be reversed."

Partnership Launches First National Rx and OTC Medicine Abuse Education Campaign

The Partnership's annual tracking study -- the largest, ongoing analysis of drug-related attitudes in the country -- began measuring teen abuse of select medications in 2003. With three years of data in hand and last year's data heralding the emergence of this new category of substance abuse, the Partnership recognized this shift in teen drug abuse behavior as one of the most significant in recent history and immediately began developing a necessary prevention and education campaign directed at parents.

Launching today, the campaign is a comprehensive, multi-year prevention communications effort targeting the abuse of Rx and OTC medications. The Partnership created this effort with support from the Consumer Healthcare Products Association and its member companies. The campaign speaks directly to parents by alerting them that their own homes are easily accessible sources for teens to obtain and abuse these medications. The campaign is comprised of hard-hitting television, newspaper, magazine and radio messages, a multifaceted interactive online component, and is supplemented by informational brochures to help parents get the conversation started with their teen. A multi-faceted public relations effort will provide additional media support for the campaign.

The campaign also features an innovative online component consisting of unique and engaging Web sites focused on the dangers of abusing cough medicine/dextromethorphan (dextromethorphan, or DXM, is the active ingredient in cough medicine). The Partnership's Web site http://www.drugfree.org features comprehensive online content on the abuse of prescription drugs. Original online content created specifically for parents and teens on the abuse of cough medicine can be found at:

     * For parents -  http://www.drugfree.org/Parent/

     * For teens -  http://www.dxmstories.com/

"The message of this campaign can be summed up in three words," Pasierb said. "Educate, communicate and safeguard. Educate yourself about the medications kids are abusing. Communicate with your kids and dispel the notion -- for yourself as well as for your kids -- that these medicines can be safely abused. And safeguard your medications by learning which ones can be abused, limit access to them and keep track of the quantities you have in your home -- and make sure your friends do the same."

All advertising for the campaign was created pro bono by advertising agencies Grey, DDB Chicago, Lumina Films and Dieste Harmel & Partners (Spanish-language), along with a number of production companies that donated their time and effort. All actors appear in campaign ads pro bono through the generosity of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. The Rx and OTC education effort will be a priority campaign for the Partnership, which will work directly with national and local media to gain significant placements for campaign messages.

Steady Decline in Teen Drug Use, With Marked Areas of Concern

The 2005 PATS study confirms that overall substance abuse is steadily declining among teens. The data show noteworthy decreases in teens' use of tobacco, and steady declines in the number of teens using alcohol. Anti-marijuana attitudes have continued to strengthen since 1998 with 37 percent of teens reporting experimentation with the drug, compared to 42 percent in 1998. Ecstasy use also continues to decline with lifetime trials at 8 percent compared to 12 percent in 2001. Use of cocaine or crack -- either lifetime trial, past year and past month -- remain stable at 8 percent.

However, the PATS data has identified inhalants and methamphetamine abuse as two areas that are cause for concern and careful monitoring:

     * Inhalants (inhaled fumes of household products) -- Teen trial of
       inhalants has increased over the past three years to an alarming 20
       percent and inhalants are currently the second most abused substances
       behind marijuana (37 percent).  While all measures of teen inhalant
       abuse have not reached the record highs of 1998, falling perceptions of
       risk indicate that additional increases in use are likely to follow.

     * Methamphetamine or meth (stimulant) -- Teen perception of the risks
       associated with both trying or using meth regularly have steadily
       increased over the last three years and this year's data show usage
       stabilized at 8 percent at the national level.  While teen use of meth
       is relatively low, only 54 percent of teens see great risk in trying
       meth once or twice.

"Teens' low perception of risk in abusing a drug can lead to abuse," said Pasierb. "History would tell us that we need to stay out in front of meth and inhalants before teen use of these drugs increases."

For more information about this study and the campaign, visit http://www.drugfree.org.

Source: Partnership for a Drug-Free America