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Generation Rx: Preventing the Misuse and Abuse of Prescription Medications

The incidence of prescription drug abuse among teens is a source of serious concern at C-RCS, in the community and in regions across the country. What was seen as a mere blip on the radar screen a few years ago has become a significant threat. Story after story tells of parents unaware that their teenagers are abusing these drugs, and at times discovering this fact when it was too late.

While parents tend to establish rules for their teens regarding the liquor cabinet, often times they do not do the same for the medicine cabinet. More and more, teens across the nation are rummaging through family prescription bottles for anything for pain relief, weight loss, increased concentration, to get high, etc. Most teens don’t consider such actions dangerous.

Many times, teens don’t realize what they are doing is considered drug abuse. Prescription drug abuse is when someone takes a medication that was prescribed for someone else or takes their own prescription in a manner or dosage other than what was prescribed. To some teens, taking one of dad’s pain pills when they pulled a muscle, sneaking one of mom’s weight loss pills, or raiding the medicine cabinet for something to help them stay awake to study for a test is just an aid, not an abuse. Many mistakenly think if the drugs are safe for their relatives, they are safe for them.

Some teens are misinformed and think that abusing prescription drugs is safer than abusing illicit drugs because the manufacturing of prescription drugs is regulated or because they are prescribed by doctors. In reality, prescription drugs can have dangerous short- and long-term health consequences when used incorrectly or by someone other than for whom they were intended.

Virtually every medication presents some risk of undesirable side effects, sometimes even serious ones. Doctors consider the potential benefits and risks to each patient before prescribing medications. People who abuse drugs might not understand how these factors may affect them.

Medications that affect the brain can change the way it functions—especially when they are taken repeatedly or in large doses. They can alter the reward system, making it harder to feel good without the drug, just like many illicit drugs. Taking drugs repeatedly over a period of time can cause changes in the body as well as the brain, resulting in physical dependence, which can lead to withdrawal issues.

Teens: Educate yourself and your friends about the real dangers of taking medications. If you are concerned about your or someone else’s drug use, talk to a parent, school guidance counselor, or other trusted adult.

There are also anonymous resources, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) and the Treatment Referral Helpline (1-800-662-HELP). The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) is a crisis hotline that can help with many problems, not just suicide. This includes problems due to drug use.  The Treatment Referral Helpline (1-800-662-HELP)—offered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration—refers callers to treatment facilities, support groups, and other local organizations that can provide help for their specific needs. You can also locate treatment centers in your state by going to

Parents: Educate, communicate, and safeguard.

  • Educate yourself on the realities of teens and prescription drugs. Watch the videos, read the reports and visit the websites listed below.
  • Communicate to your teens, not only about the dangers of prescription drugs but about the circumstances that might lead to their inappropriate use.
  • Safeguard your prescriptions: Lock up pill bottles. Send the message that they, like alcohol, are off limits.


  •  One in five teens (4.5 million) has abused Rx drugs.(Maximizing Your Role as Teen Influencer: What You Can Do to Help Prevent Drug Abuse)

  •  One in three teens report knowing someone who abuses prescription drugs.(MYRTI)

  •  One in three teens surveyed say there is “nothing wrong” with abusing prescription drugs “every once in a while.” (MYRTI)

  • Next to marijuana, the most common drugs teens abuse are prescription medications. Approximately 9.3 percent of youths aged 12 to 17 were current illicit drug users—6.7 percent used marijuana and 2.9 percent engaged in nonmedical use of prescription-type psychotherapeutics (NSDUH, 2008)

  • The prescription drugs most commonly abused by high school seniors in 2010 were: Vicodin (8% of survey respondents), Adderall (about 7%), tranquilizers (5%) and cough medicine (5%). Respondents also reported using OxyContin (4.9%) and Ritalin (3%) for non-medical purposes. (NIDA, 2011)

  •  A solid majority (70%) of respondents who abused prescription medications received the substances from friends or relatives, meaning the number of survey participants “obtaining them over the Internet was negligible.” (NIDA, 2011)



Sources: Ohio State University, College of Pharmacy; Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America; the National Institute on Drug Abuse