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Epidemic of Prescription Drug Abuse Among American Youths

Update Date: Oct 16, 2012 11:16 AM EDT

An epidemic has hit American youths with growing fervor: the use and abuse of prescription drugs such as vicodin, valium and oxycontin.

A new study conducted by experts from the University of Colorado reveals that prescription drug abuse is 40 percent higher among this generation than previous generations, coming in second as the most commonly used illegal drug behind marijuana.

"Prescription drug use is the next big epidemic," Miech said. "Everyone in this field has recognized that there is a big increase in the abuse of non-medical analgesics but our study shows that it is accelerating among today's generation of adolescents," says Richard Miech, Ph.D., lead author of the study and professor of sociology at CU Denver.

Data gathered from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reveals that prescription medication abuse is highest among non-Hispanic whites, second among non-Hispanic blacks and third among Hispanics.

The study notes:

"The increasing availability of analgesics in the general population is well documented, as the total number of hydrocodone and oxycodone products prescribed legally in the U.S. increased more than fourfold from about 40 million in 1991 to nearly 180 million in 2007."

The study continues, "Higher prevalence of analgesics makes first-time NAU among contemporary youth easier than in the past because more homes have prescription analgesics in their medicine cabinets."

Miech reveals a disturbing statistic that there are now more deaths due to prescription drug overdoses than there is from cocaine and heroine combined. While most people lock up their guns to keep out of reach from their children, many do not recognize the dangers of leaving around their prescription drugs.

There is little social stigma in using and abusing prescription drugs researchers say that the study shows a serious lack of policies and interventions aimed to stop the increased use of these drugs among adolescents and young adults.

According to the study:

  • Nonmedical analgesic use accounted for an increase in emergency room visits of 129 percent between 2004 and 2009.

  • Between 1997 and 2007, NAU accounted for more than a 500 percent increase in the number of Americans seeking treatment for prescription opioid dependency.

  • Prescription drug abuse led to a threefold increase in unintentional overdose mortality from the 1990s to 2007.

"These results suggest that current policies and interventions are not yet effective enough to counter the factors that have increased nonmedical analgesic use among U.S. youth and the general population," Miech said. "But it is critical that we devise a strategy to deal with an epidemic that shows little sign of ebbing." 

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