Prescription drug abuse among teens still a concern, doctors say

BALTIMORE - For many teens across Maryland, last month represented prom season, a time of joy and excitement and a rite of passage for those preparing to graduate high school.

Dr. Annie Soriano views the season through a different lens. To Soriano, the division head of pediatric emergency medicine at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, knows it’s the time of year she expects to see more teens come through her hospital suffering for an accidental drug overdose.

“It’s prom season and there are girls out there that want to lose weight quickly to better fit into their dress and start taking diet pills,” Soriano said. “It’s also finals season and teens are looking for pills that help them focus better and stay up longer.”

The drugs teens often look to in these cases are not bought from a dealer on the street, but are given to them from friends or even found in their parents’ or other relatives’ medicine cabinet.

In Focus | The latest weapon for combating prescription drug abuse. Thursday at 6

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), after marijuana and alcohol, prescription drugs are the most commonly abused substances by Americans age 14 and older.

NIDA said teens abuse prescription drugs to do everything from getting high, and stopping pain to them with school work.

While NIDA reports that abuse and/or misuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs continues to decline among the nation’s youth. This includes a significant drop is the use of the opioid pain reliever Vicodin in which 4.8 percent of 12th graders used reported to use the drug for “non-medical reasons” in 2014, compared to 9.7 percent five years earlier.

However, the use of drugs like Adderall and Ritalin, which are used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, remained steady at 6.8 percent and 1.8 percent respectively for high school seniors in 2014, according to a NIDA survey.

The survey also found that teens’ are less concerned about taking such prescription medications with just 55.1 percent of high school seniors viewed taking prescription amphetamines as harmful, compared to 69 percent five years earlier.

NIDA reports that boys typically abuse prescription drugs to get high, while girls abuse them to lose weight or stay alert. Soriano added that she also has dealt with multiple cases of teens who suffer from Sickle Cell Disease abusing a relative’s pain medication to help deal with the effects of the painful illness.

“Kids today are much more creative about finding ways to get high or look for a quick fix,” Soriano said. “There’s so much information out there on the Internet. Plus, many kids believe that because the drugs came from a pharmacy and not a drug dealer that it’s safe to use.

“That’s just not the case if a drug is not prescribed to you and/or is not used properly. If a drug is not prescribed to you, you should not take it.”

Soriano said that adults can look for several signs to recognize potential prescription drugs abuse, which includes the teen getting into uncharacteristic trouble at school, a drastic change in behavior and sleeping in much later than usual.

“There are several simple steps you can take to reduce the chances prescription drug overdoses among children,” Soriano said. “Make sure you are talking to kids about such dangers. Also, you need to be responsible for any prescription drugs in your house and account for every pill in the bottles.” 

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