Editorial: Update the teen drug abuse conversation
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Results of a new survey on teen substance abuse are enough to make an anti-drug activist shudder. Only 14 percent of high school students say their parents included a warning about prescription drug abuse when they last talked to them about drugs. Equally alarming is that the study found lax attitudes among both parents and teens about the dangers of such abuse.
Yet according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prescription drug abuse is the fastest-growing drug problem among 12- to 17-year-olds, and one out of every five high school students has wrongfully used such medications.
It appears there's an information deficit in the fight against drugs, and it's one that needs to be remedied quickly.
Drug trends among teens come and go, and the misuse of stimulants and painkillers is among the latest surges. The new nationwide study, released last week by The Partnership at Drugfree.org in conjunction with the MetLife Foundation, points to a 33 percent increase since 2008 in the number of high school students who say they have misused or abused a prescription drug. In addition, the study found, 27 percent of teens believe that abusing these types of drugs is safer than using street drugs.
It's worrisome that many parents in the survey shared that casual attitude. One in six said that using prescription drugs to get high is safer than using street drugs, and nearly a third believed medications such as Ritalin or Adderall can improve academic performance even if a teen does not have ADHD.
Teens and parents should not be lulled into thinking the medications are less dangerous because their manufacture is regulated and they are prescribed by medical professionals. The fact is, taking these drugs unauthorized — illegally — can have powerful effects on developing brains and bodies, and teens who abuse any type of drug are more likely to face addiction problems later on.
Add to the problem the ease with which high school students are obtaining them: not in back alleys or gang-controlled street corners where illegal drugs often are sold but from their family's medicine cabinets or those of their friends.
The Partnership study found that about 80 percent of parents had talked with their children about the risks of marijuana and alcohol use. That's a good start, but now it's time to take it a step further. They must keep tight control over the prescription meds in their homes, even locking them up if necessary. Old or unneeded medications should be tossed. Many police and health departments in the suburbs offer collection boxes to safely dispose of them.
A stronger, more focused community response will help as well. As the trends in drug abuse shift, school, law enforcement and health officials will need to expand their anti-drug message. Without more information and action, the threat of prescription drug abuse among teens will only worsen.
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