The 17th annual study on teen drug abuse, released Thursday morning, found that about one in five U.S. teenagers has abused a prescription painkiller — more than have experimented with either Ecstasy, cocaine, crack or LSD. One in 11 teens had abused over-the-counter products such as cough medicine, the study reported.
"The pain reliever number translates to about 4.3 million kids who have tried these products, outside of a doctor's recommendation, with the intention of getting high," Partnership for a Drug-Free America president Steve Pasierb told CBS radio affiliate WTOP.
"For the first time, our national study finds that today's teens are more likely to have abused a prescription painkiller to get high than they are to have experimented with a variety of illegal drugs," said Roy Bostock, the partnership's chairman.
According to the survey, the most popular prescription drug abused by teens was Vicodin, with 18 percent — or about 4.3 million youths — reporting they had used it to get high. OxyContin and drugs for attention-deficit disorder such as Ritalin/Adderall followed with one in 10 teens reporting they had tried them.
Fewer than half the teens — 48 percent — said they saw "great risk" in experimenting with prescription medicines. "Ease of access" was cited as a major factor in trying the medications.
"Access is one of the key issues, and access is in the parents' medicine cabinets, a friend's medicine cabinet, grandma, grandpa," said Pasierb. "These drugs are doing a lot of benefit in society, but what parents and folks to understand is they have to safeguard these drugs."
"We're finding that the kids who are doing this are by and large already drug-experienced. This is not an entry behavior. These are kids who have tried other drugs, primarily illicit drugs," said Pasierb. "They're getting a buzz, they're getting high. They're seeing these as a safer alternative to illicit street drugs."
The number of teens reporting marijuana use declined to 37 percent last year, compared with 42 percent a half-dozen years earlier. Over the same amount of time, ecstasy use declined from 12 percent to 9 percent, while methamphetamine trial dropped from 12 percent to 8 percent.
The 2004 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study surveyed more than 7,300 teens, the largest ongoing analysis of teen drug-related attitudes toward drugs in the country. Its margin of error is plus or minus 1.5 percent.
The nonprofit Partnership for a Drug-Free America, launched in 1987, is a coalition of communications professionals aimed at reducing the demand for illegal drugs.