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Published: Tuesday, 5/16/2006

1 in 5 teens try prescription painkillers

FROM BLADE STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

Teen smoking and drinking continued to drop nationwide, but teenage abuse of prescription drugs has become "an entrenched behavior" that many parents fail to recognize, a survey released yesterday showed.

For a third straight year, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America study showed that about 1 in 5 teens have tried prescription drug painkillers such as Vicodin or OxyContin to get high - about 4.5 million teens. It also indicated that many teens feel experimenting with prescription drugs is safer than illegal highs.

Recently released numbers for Lucas and Wood counties show about 14 percent of teens in each county have used a prescription pain killer without a prescription. Looking just at 12th graders in each county, the picture was more troubling: 1 in 5 seniors said they'd used a prescription pain killer without a prescription at some point in the last year.

Those findings were some of the few trouble spots in otherwise positive surveys that found the percentage of Lucas County youths smoking or drinking alcohol at all-time lows since surveying began in 1990, while Wood County's survey also showed low usage rates for smoking and alcohol.

Still, Bill Ivoska, co-author of the surveys done in Lucas and Wood counties, said he's "absolutely" concerned about the local prescription drug findings. Mr. Ivoska, vice president of student services at Owens Community College, said that results should remind parents not to focus just on the liquor cabinet but on the medicine cabinet too.

"The message to parents is when you get a prescription pain killer, use it for its intended purpose, and then throw it away when you're done," he said, adding it's also important to keep a close eye on where the medicine is stored.

"It's really a case now of accepting the fact that it's here," national Partnership President and CEO Steve Pasierb said. "Clearly, this is a true problem in American society."

Although this was the group's 18th annual survey, it marked only the third year of compiling figures on the abuse of legal drugs. In 2003, the study found 20 percent of teens had tried the prescription drugs Vicodin, OxyContin, and Tylox. Over the next two years, the numbers remained fairly consistent nationally, just as they have in Lucas and Wood counties, which released survey data on prescription drug abuse in 2004 and this year.

Mr. Pasierb said it was a good sign that the prescription drug numbers had not increased, but warned parents that the source of drugs is now the family medicine cabinet more than any dealer. The study found 62 percent of teens said prescription pain relievers are easy to find at home. And 52 percent say prescription pain relievers are "available everywhere."

Deacon Dzierzawski, executive director of the anti-drug group Lucas County Community Prevention Partnership, said the source of most of the prescription drugs being abused locally are medicine cabinets at home.

"You need to keep an eye on them," he warned, saying the drugs make easy targets for teens wanting to experiment with what they falsely believe are "safer" drugs.

The national Partnership survey put teen smoking at 22 percent, down from 23 percent last year and 42 percent in 1998. The number of teens drinking in the past 30 days was down from 33 percent last year to 31 percent; in 1998, the figure was 42 percent.

The local surveys released earlier this year by Mr. Ivoska broke out usage rates by grade level. For Lucas County 12th graders, 21 percent of high school seniors said they had smoked in the past month, down from 42 percent in 1996. Alcohol use by Lucas County 12th graders in the past month was reported at 51 percent, down from 60 percent in 1996. Wood County numbers were similar.

The 2005 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study surveyed more than 7,300 teens in grades 7 through 12, the largest ongoing analysis of teen drug-related attitudes toward drugs in the country. Its margin of error was plus or minus 1.5 percentage points.



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