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Prescription Drug Abuse by Young People

Among those who misuse prescription drugs by taking prescription medications for non-medical purposes or sharing them with a friend, the highest rates of abuse occur among young adults and adolescents. However, a recent report published in Pediatrics shows that the prescriptions written for controlled medications for this population have nearly doubled in the past 14 years.

The report shows that a controlled medication was prescribed for young adults at one out of every six visits to the doctor, and adolescents received a prescription at one out of every nine doctor visits.

Lead author Robert J. Fortuna, M.D., M.P.H. an assistant professor of Pediatrics and Internal Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, says that while treatment of symptoms is a necessary step, the doctor must be cautious. There is a delicate balance between treating a patient’s symptoms and inadvertently causing a drug misuse problem.

The researchers discovered that between 1994 and 2007, prescription rates for controlled substances for young adults increased from 8.3 to 16.1 percent. Among adolescents, the rate increased from 6.4 to 11.2 percent. The findings were consistent no matter where the patient was treated and what they were treated for.

The researchers utilized data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey to calculate the patterns of prescriptions written for 15- to 19-year old adolescents and young adults between the ages of 20 and 29 years old.

The clinical visits were grouped by the type of drug prescribed, the type of visit, the location of the visit and several demographic factors. Drugs were given a classification as narcotics, sedatives and stimulants.

The researchers believe that at least in part, the rise in prescriptions for narcotics may be due to increased awareness and regulations that advocate for pain management. In 2001, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations began an initiative to recognize pain as a fifth vital sign.

In addition, the researchers believe that the rise in prescriptions for sedatives may be due to an increased awareness of insomnia and anxiety problems among young people, especially due to direct-to-consumer marketing of sedative medical solutions.

While the researchers do not believe that the increased prescription of narcotics, sedatives and stimulants have caused the increase in prescription medical abuse, they do caution that more attention is needed in educating young people about the dangers of abusing these drugs. Doctors should be encouraged to talk with their patients about the misuse of the prescriptions when offering them as a solution for treatment.

Posted on January 5th, 2011

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