Generation Rx: Could your teens be abusing prescription drugs?

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Generation Rx: Could your teens be abusing prescription drugs?

Because of a rapidly growing trend of abusing prescription drugs, our latest generation of teens is now becoming known as ‘Generation Rx.’ More than 4.5 million teens report taking prescription painkillers or stimulants to get high each year. And, among 12-13 year-olds, prescription drugs are the drugs of choice.  Worse yet, kids mistakenly think that prescription pills are safer than illicit drugs or drinking alcohol. 
More Information:
This blog is from an article I’ve written for HomeLife Magazine:
Jennifer, a teenage patient of mine, overheard her mother talking to a friend about how her younger sister’s ADHD medication was causing her sister to lose weight. 
Jennifer had become worried about her own weight, so she began to take some of her sister’s pills.
Another patient, Sam, discovered a bottle of painkillers that were left over from his mother’s dental surgery. He decided to try them and liked the high the pill gave him. 
Sam became addicted to painkillers. He told me that he had assumed they were safe “because a doctor had prescribed them.”
Both Sam and Jennifer were taking incredible risks with their health – and neither they nor their parents suspected it for a moment.
When teens take prescription drugs that are not recommended for them by their doctor, it can be extremely dangerous—even fatal—and it’s just as illegal as taking street drugs.
Yet, a stunning numbers of teens do just this. The Partnership for a Drug Free America reports that in 2007:

1 in 5 teens has abused a prescription pain medication

1 in 5 report abusing prescription stimulants and tranquilizers

1 in 10 has abused cough medication

Prescription drugs are used by teens to get high more than any other drug but marijuana

The four classes of prescriptions that are most commonly abused are pain relievers, stimulants, sedatives, and tranquilizers.
More than 4.5 million teens report taking prescription painkillers or stimulants to get high each year. And, among 12-13 year-olds, prescription drugs are the drugs of choice.  Worse yet, kids mistakenly think that prescription pills are safer than illicit drugs or drinking alcohol. 
About 70% of teens abusing prescription drugs acquire them from family members or friends, according to 2007 national survey. Kids report prescriptions are more easily available to them than illicit drugs, which require knowing a person who uses or sells the drug. 
If this easy-access method dries up, teens report they can find Internet pharmacies more than willing to dispense prescriptions without a doctor’s order.
According to a 2008 survey conducted by Columbia University, “19 percent of teenagers found it easier to purchase prescription drugs than cigarettes, beer, or marijuana.”
To use these drugs, some teens crush up and snort them to intensify the high, while others take the pills with alcohol or other drugs to get high.
Besides getting high, another common reason children as young as 8-10 years old are taking prescription medications non-medically is to “self-medicate.”
The two most common warning signs of drug abuse in a child are (1) changes in the child’s behavior or (2) he or she has friends that you suspect might be abusing drugs. But, over one-half of teens that abuse drugs are not suspected.
The key to this potential problem is prevention. An obvious first step is to keep all prescriptions that could be abused either hidden or locked up. 
In addition, warn your children about the dangers of taking pharmaceuticals without a doctor’s supervision.
Highly effective parents expect responsible behavior from their children and take the time and make the effort to communicate their expectations to their children. When parental expectations are clearly and lovingly communicated, children tend to respond. 
It’s true: hands-on parenting is the best drug abuse antidote.
Points to emphasize to your teen:

Pharmaceuticals taken without a prescription or a doctor’s supervision can be just as dangerous as taking illicit drugs. 

Abusing painkillers is like abusing heroin because their ingredients (both are opioids) are very similar. 

Prescription medications are powerful substances, which can have a very different impact on a young person than an older person. 

Many pills look pretty much the same, but depending on the drug and the dosage, the effects can vary greatly from mild to lethal. 

Prescription medications, as all drugs, can cause dangerous, and sometimes fatal, interactions with other drugs or chemicals in the body.

Resources for Parents:
1. Partnership for a Drug-Free America
2. Parents The Anti-Drug
3. Kids Health
4. Teen Drug Abuse 
5. U.S. Department of Justice 


  1. Hi Dr. Walt,
    We are fueling conversation about a new documentary film, Generation RX, which scrutinizes the widespread prescription of psychotropic or behavioral drugs to America’s children.
    According to a peer reviewed study on Bio-Med Central, 6.7% of American kids are on behavior-enhancing medication, and are three times more likely to be prescribed psychotropic medication than children in Europe.
    We know this topic is controversial–what do you think? Are behavioural drugs justified, or over-prescribed? I found your blog and I think you’ll have valuable things to say about this film. Please email me at if you would like a free copy of the Generation RX DVD, and we’ll mail you one.

  2. Dr. Walt says:

    Hi Ms. LeGresley,
    Thanks for the note. I discuss this issue at some depth in my book “Why ADHD Doesn’t Mean Disaster.” You may find the information interesting in doing your research. All the best with your project.
    Dr. Walt

  3. Dan says:

    The Dangerously Euphoric Violet Delight
    Often, medications for pain are made from opoid plants. These purple-flowered plants produce opium poppies, which are used in the production of the analgesic, opium. Opium is what we in the U.S. call narcotics, and they dull and numb one who ingests what may be made by these opium poppies, as there are several drugs that have been developed from what these plants provide that are these prevalent narcotics.
    Some medications are from natural opium, such as cocaine, or the opiates from the poppy seeds can be used to create semi-synthetic medications, such as Heroin. Heroin was marketed by Bayer Pharmaceuticals for 12 years, and during that time this company told others that heroin was a non-addicting form of morphine (pure opiate drug), since there were many soldiers addicted to morphine after the U.S Civil War. During that same period of time, Bayer marketed heroin for children who coughed. Of course, Heroin is very addictive, and is pointless creation is no longer available.
    While Poppy plants exist and are grown in areas of IndoChina, Afghanistan is the number one producer of poppy plants. The United States is the number one country that consumes what is derived from these plants. Opium-derived medicines once could be bought freely in the U.S. by anyone less than 100 years ago. Yet now, they are classified by the Drug Enforcement Agency as narcotics, and are scheduled by them, according to the danger they potentially could cause another who takes them.
    While prescribed to patients for such issues aside from pain on occasion, such as chronic coughing and diarrhea, their greatest benefit is for the relief of pain experienced often by patients is the primary reason doctors prescribe opoid drugs, and they do so often. Vicodin, a mild narcotic, is the most frequently prescribed medication in the U.S. presently.
    If patients take opium-derived drugs for long periods of time, tolerance may develop, and the patient may need to take more of the drug to acquire an effect of relief. In addition, the patient may develop a dependence on these types of drugs, which can lead to addiction and possible abuse. This is why overdose of these types of medicine occur- as the reasons for taking these drugs initially become replaced with relief due to addiction in some who take narcotics for a long period of time.
    Dan Abshear

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