Today, more people die from legally prescribed drugs than from heroin and cocaine combined.
While most teens and parents are well aware of the dangers of illegal drugs, many are still ignorant of the significant dangers of taking legal, prescription drugs, according to new research published in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing.
In 2013, of the 43,982 drug overdose deaths in the United States, 22,767 (51.8 percent) were related to pharmaceuticals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“The CDC has classified the situation as an epidemic. Prescription drugs are seen as blessed by a trusted institution, the FDA, while increasingly aggressive advertising by drug companies simultaneously floods parents and children with messages that these substances are safe, popular, and beneficial,” write study authors Richard Netemeyer (University of Virginia), Scot Burton (University of Arkansas), Barbara Delaney (Partnership for Drug Free Kids), and Gina Hijjawi (American Institutes for Research).
For the study, researchers approached teens in shopping malls across the United States. They asked the teens to complete a web-based questionnaire reporting on their use of a variety of substances, including alcohol, tobacco, and both legal and illegal drugs.
They were also asked whether they suffered from anxiety, felt a desire to be popular, sought out exciting activities, and what level of risk they associated with prescription drugs.
Overall, the findings showed that prescription drug use increased in direct proportion to negative mental states such as anxiety as well as the use of other restricted substances such as alcohol.
Under some conditions, however, prescription drug abuse rose dramatically, such as when the level of anxiety or desire to be popular was at its peak.
“Teens need help before they reach these tipping points for prescription drug abuse. Adults spotting teens with very high levels of anxiety and at least moderate use of other restricted substances should realize that these are students with a high likelihood of prescription drug abuse,” write the authors.
“Male teens with a high need to be popular and teens in general appear to be at exceptional risk. Campaigns must target parents as well, since they clearly underestimate both the physical risks of prescription drugs and the likelihood that their children will abuse these drugs.”
According to the CDC, of the 22,767 deaths relating to pharmaceutical overdose in 2013, 16,235 (71.3 percent) involved opioid analgesics (also known as opioid pain relievers or prescription painkillers), and 6,973 (30.6 percent) involved benzodiazepines. Some deaths involved more than one type of drug.