WASHINGTON – The number of teenagers who admit abusing prescription drugs rose 212 percent over 11 years,according to a report released Thursday.
The 214-page report,“Under the Counter: The Diversion and Abuse of Controlled Prescription Drugs in the U.S.,” explains the findings of a three-year study of prescription drug use in the U.S. by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
“Today more people are abusing prescription drugs than the combined number who abuse cocaine,hallucinogens,inhalants and heroin,” said Joseph Califano,the center's chairman and president,at a news conference.
According to the report,between 1992 and 2003 when the U.S. population increased 13 percent,the number of people abusing prescription drugs,mainly painkillers and stimulants,increased 94 percent among adults,but rose more sharply among teens.
Califano said this is twice the increase in marijuana abuse,five times the increase for cocaine abuse and 60 times the increase in heroin abuse.
“This report is not just lamenting the situation. This is actually a concrete action plan,” said Alan Leshner,chief executive officer for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He said it lays out recommendations for physicians,pharmacists and law enforcement officials to manage legal use and prevent abuse of the drugs.
According to the report,2.3 million 12- to 17-year-olds abused at least one controlled prescription drug in 2003,with 83 percent of that group abusing opioids. Opioids,including codeine,OxyContin,Percocet and Demerol,are commonly taken to relieve pain.
“It will be hard to do,but we need to turn these drugs back into medicines,” said Leshner.
Califano said pharmaceutical companies are contributing to the abuse of prescription drugs because they sell drugs that can easily be altered to produce quick effects. The report cites drugs that can be crushed or dissolved and suggests adding an “antagonist” agent that will preserve its use as medicine but make it unattractive to abusers.
“Parents also play a key role,” Califano said. “Their easily accessible medicine cabinets containing these very drugs are an open invitation to children,fueling ‘pharming parties' where teens bring drugs for the purpose of getting high.”
Califano said parents should also monitor teens' Internet use.
According to the report,illegal Internet pharmacies have introduced a new avenue where buyers and users can purchase controlled substances for unlawful purposes.
“The Internet is a wide-open highway for distribution of illegally acquired abusable prescription drugs,” Califano said.
“Now the child that you think is up in his room doing his homework can go on the Internet and,all of a sudden,your child is acting irrationally,and you don't know what's going on,” said Richard Dietl,chairman of Beau Dietl and Associates,an investigative firm.
Beau Dietl found hundreds of Web sites that advertise and sell controlled prescription opioids,depressants,stimulants and steroids. The Web sites did not require prescriptions or proof of age.
According to the report,only 16.6 percent of those in need receive substance abuse treatment and only 11 percent of underage youths receive treatment.
The report recommends that health care providers get better training in prescribing and administering controlled drugs. It suggests strengthening efforts to control Internet drug stores,strengthening the Food and Drug Administration regulation of controlled prescription drugs and educating the public about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.
“I hope this report will be a wake-up call to Americans,” Califano said. “Dealing effectively with abuse of controlled prescription drugs is essential to preserve their availability for appropriate use to improve the lives of Americans who need them.”