Preventing Teen Prescription
What is prescription medicine abuse?
Prescription (Rx) medicine abuse is the use of an
Rx medicine to create an altered state, to get high,
or for any reasons other than those intended by
the prescribing doctor.
How many teens are doing this?
According to research conducted by the
Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, one in four teens
say they have taken a prescription medicine – that
was not prescribed to them — at least once in their
lifetime. This behavior cuts across geographic,
racial, ethnic and socioeconomic boundaries.
Why are some teens doing this?
Teens are engaging in this dangerous behavior for a
variety of reasons. In some cases, they do it to party
and get high, but also to manage stress or regulate
their lives. Some are abusing prescription stimulants
used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
(ADHD) to provide additional energy and the ability
to focus when they’re studying or taking tests. Many
teens are abusing pain relievers and tranquilizers to
cope with academic, social or emotional stress.
What are the risks?
There are both immediate and long-term risks to
medicine abuse. In the short term, overdosing can
be fatal, as can mixing Rx medicine with over-thecounter medicine and/or alcohol. In the longer
term, prescription opioids (pain relievers) and other
prescription medicines have been proven to be
potentially addictive. Relying on Rx medicines at
a young age to help “manage” life can establish a
lifelong pattern of dependency and prevent teens
from learning important coping skills.
Where are teens getting prescription
Two-thirds (66 percent) of teens who report abuse
of prescription pain relievers are getting them from
friends, family and acquaintances. Some teens share
Rx medicines among themselves —handing out or
selling their own pills or those they’ve acquired or
stolen from classmates. A very small minority of
teens also say they get their prescription medicine
illicitly from doctors, pharmacists or over the
Are parents educating their children
about the risks of this behavior?
Research conducted by the Partnership for
Drug-Free Kids shows that parents are not
communicating the risks of prescription medicine
abuse to their children as often as they talk about
street drugs. This is partly because some parents
are unaware of the behavior (which wasn’t as
prevalent when they were teenagers), and partly
because those who are aware of teen medicine
abuse tend to underestimate the risks just as teens
do. A recent study by the Partnership for DrugFree Kids showed that 27 percent of parents have
taken a prescription medicine without having a
prescription for it themselves. This sets a dangerous
example for their kids, teaching them that they
don’t need to follow guidelines for proper use of Rx
WHAT SHOULD PARENTS DO?
1. Educate yourself – Visit drugfree.org and
MedicineAbuseProject.org for information, tools,
resources and support.
2. Communicate the risks of prescription medicine
abuse to your kids. Children who learn a lot about
the risks of drugs at home are at least 20 percent
less likely to use drugs than those who do not get
that critical message from their parents.
3. Safeguard your medicine. Keep prescription
medicine in a secure place, count and monitor the
number of pills you have and lock them up — and
ask your friends and family members to do the
4. Get help. If you think your child has a problem
with prescription medicine abuse, please visit
drugfree.org/get-help or call our Parents TollFree Helpline to speak to a parent specialist at
Learn more at drugfree.org and
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