Prescription Drug Abuse: Teenagers Get Legally High

Legal drugs, including painkillers like OxyContin, now kill more people than heroin and cocaine combined, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). A 2015 research study suggests that the deadly consequences are often seen in teenagers as they remain unaware of the significant physical dangers from readily available prescription drugs.

The CDC has labeled this dire situation among our youth as an "epidemic" as 44 people in the United States die from overdose of prescription painkillers. The trend, the organization states, continues to increase and hit adolescent aged individuals due to problematic practices.

"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," lead researcher Richard Netemeyer and his colleagues wrote in The Legal High: Factors Affecting Young Consumers' Risk Perceptions and Abuse of Prescription Drugs.

The Current Research

This latest nationwide study went directly to the teens via an internet survey and requested information in these areas:

  1. Their use of substances including alcohol, tobacco and both legal and illegal drugs.
  2. Whether they struggle with anxiety and/or a desire to be popular.
  3. The level of risk they associated with prescription drugs.

The findings revealed:

  1. Prescription drug use increased in direct proportion to psychological states such as anxiety.
  2. Use of legal prescriptions increased the use of other restricted substances such as alcohol.
  3. Male teens with a high need to be popular and teens in general appear to be at exceptional risk.
  4. Prescription drug abuse accelerated exponentially among this demographic, such as when the level of anxiety or desire to be popular was at its very highest.

What's Next?

Many experts believe his segment of prescription drug abuse can be avoided with adult involvement. As grown-ups, it is our responsibility to counsel and provide healthy coping mechanisms for our teens when they experience high levels of anxiety.

Providing information, knowledge and support can help in advance of teenagers experimenting with prescription drugs.

The study's investigators concluded that, "Campaigns must target parents … since they clearly underestimate both the physical risks of prescription drugs and the likelihood that their children will abuse these drugs."


Audrey Beim holds two advanced degrees from major universities, including a Master's Degree in Psychology. She has over 20 years of experience in the health, wellness, nutritional and fitness categories and has used her expertise to write articles for media outlets such as Linfield Media and Examiner.com.