Take a moment to think of a typical high school scene; a classroom full of students, a teacher scratching at the chalkboard, kids writing notes. Chances are 24 percent of those kids have misused or abused prescription drugs at some point in their life, a staggering number that affects 5 million American adolescents.
A look at the statistics
Misusing or abusing prescription drugs can lead to impulsive or risky behavior and to poor judgment in general. They are a contributing factor (along with alcohol and illegal drugs) to the three leading causes of death for adolescents; car accidents, homicide and suicide. For instance, unintentional poisoning deaths (due to drugs and other substances) increased by 91 percent from 2000 to 2009 for 15 to 19 year olds and by 36 percent for those between 10 and 14 years of age.
Parents may be contributing
The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS) has shown a lax attitude from parents.
- 23 percent of teens say their parents show less concern if they are caught using prescription drugs not prescribed to them v.s. using illicit drugs.
- 32 percent of parents say they believe RX stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall can improve a teen’s academic performance even if the teen doesn’t have ADHD.
- Only one in 100 parents thinks their teenagers use “study drugs” while one in eight 12th graders report using them.
- 27 percent of teens believe that misusing and abusing prescription drugs is safer than using illicit drugs.
Emergency room visits refute the last bullet point. There were 55,306 visits to the emergency room for illicit drug use among children and adolescents in 2009 v.s. more than 66,000 visits for prescription drugs. Pain relievers such as opioids were the most commonly reported drug.
If parents think prescription drugs are safer, will they be less inclined to teach their kids to stay away from them? How can pediatricians and family practice physicians change attitudes about drug use and teens?
There have been studies that suggest that primary care behavioral interventions are not that effective and the best way to influence a child is through the home. Top risk factors include:
- Substance use by family members (specifically parents and/or siblings)
- Poor parental supervision
- Household disruption
Top Protective Factors include:
- Parents who set clear rules and enforce them
- Parents who regularly talk with their children about the dangers of substance use
- Having a parent in recovery
How can physicians work to improve patient safety and discourage any form of substance abuse? Should the target be educating the child or educating their parents or both? As an M.D. or D.O. how do you educate your patients? If you are a physician, please join us inside Sermo as we discuss this important topic in more detail.