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Teens increasing pharmaceutical drug abuse { April 21 2005 }

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Study: 1 in 5 Teens tried painkillers


April 21, 2005, 9:54 PM EDT

Your kids may be doing your drugs.

Substance abuse experts say they are surprised by results of a new survey showing that one in five teenagers has misused the prescription painkiller Vicodin -- and an alarmingly high number of others have tapped the family medicine cabinet for access to other prescription medicines designed to treat pain, attention deficits, sleeping problems and anxiety.

Tom Hedrick, co-founder of the nonprofit Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which conducted the survey, said the growing abuse of legal drugs as opposed to street drugs seemed to arrive overnight.

"As adults, we are always a little behind what the kids are doing, but this happened at the speed of light," he said.

The national survey found that a growing number of teenagers are swallowing Vicodin, OxyContin, Ritalin, Adderall and just about any sedative or painkiller found in the home.

Teenagers are also abusing over-the-counter cough suppressants containing a powerful ingredient called dextromethorphan. High doses create an opiate-like high.

"It's easy to get into parents' medicine cabinets, either in your own home or the homes of your friends," Hedrick said. In the survey, more than 7,300 teenagers in grades 7 through 12 from across the country were asked anonymously about their drug habits.

Based on the findings, scientists say that 4.3 million teenagers have taken Vicodin, 2.3 million OxyContin, 2.3 million Ritalin/Adderall and 2.2 million over-the-counter cough and cold medicines.

Steve Pasierb, president and chief executive of the nonprofit organization, added that this "represents one of the most significant developments in substance abuse trends in recent memory."

The organization, founded in 1986, launched the national anti-drug campaign indelible in the memories of baby boomers: "This is your brain on drugs."

Since then, it has created hundreds of public service anti-drug ads. But never has it felt the need to add prescription drugs to a campaign. The survey results, released yesterday, were a wake-up call. "Those ads are now in the works," Hedrick said.

The survey also revealed why this trend is taking place. "A lot of teenagers told us that they didn't think that these drugs are dangerous, simply because they are prescriptions," Hedrick said. "And they said the prescription drugs are easier to get than street drugs."

In the wrong hands, prescription drugs can be addicting and potentially deadly, said Dr. Herbert Kleber, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in Manhattan. Kleber is also director of the division of substance abuse there.

The teens who used prescription drugs were also more likely to abuse marijuana and Ecstasy, although both drugs are on the decline, according to the survey. In 2004, 37 percent of teens said they experimented with marijuana, compared with 42 percent in 1998. Ecstasy use has gone from 12 percent in 2001 to 9 percent in this survey.

Yesterday, Val Maroulis, an 18-year-old senior from Montville, N.J., accepted the role of poster child for anti-drug use as the partnership released the latest statistics.

He's now into his seventh month in a residential treatment program at Daytop, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Mendham, N.J. "I was in my own little world," said the lanky teen. His drug habit started at 14, with marijuana. It moved on to more serious drugs, including Xanax, Klonopin, Adderall and OxyContin. "I would take prescription drugs with alcohol. Sometimes I'd black out," he said. His mother, Kathy, said that she tried one-week hospital programs several times.

He finally got picked up for possession of marijuana and ended up in court. The judge gave him a choice: rehab at Daytop or jail.

He chose treatment. "He's doing good, now," his mother said. "He's a whole different person."

The teenager offers advice for parents: "Be aware of what you keep in your medicine cabinet."

"I know if I do drugs I am taking a step backwards," he said. "Talk to your kids, educate them, drug test them."

Columbia's Kleber said the baby boom generation is reticent about talking to their children about drugs because they fear being asked about their own past usage.

If parents do have a drug history, Kleber advises that parents admit that they did experiment, but now realize that bad things could easily have happened. He also pointed out that marijuana is four to five times more powerful than it was in the 1970s.
Copyright 2005, Newsday, Inc.

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