Youth pain medication abuse has been steadily rising for over a decade. It often starts with young people “experimenting” with taking prescription pain medication that was prescribed for someone else. The source could be a family member or a friend who has suffered an illness or injury for which they were prescribed painkillers. The source could also be “left-over” prescription medicine that was not disposed of properly. As pain medication abuse has become more common among American youth, there is also a growing market for these drugs in many schools and communities. The first introduction to this illegal market might be a party, dance or other social event attended by young people. 

2009 Survey Reports Nonmedical Use of Prescription Drugs exceeds 2 1/2 Million Children in the US

According to the PATS (Partnership Attitude Tracking Study) survey done by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America in 2009, over 2 1/2 million children in the United States used prescription drugs nonmedically in the past year. The primary reason given by 40% of teenagers surveyed is that CPD (Controlled Prescription Drugs) are viewed to be safer then the more infamous illicit drugs. The more alarming group, consisting of 33% of teenagers surveyed, believe there is nothing at all dangerous about taking prescription drugs because doctors prescribe them.

Rate of Past-Year Opioid Drug Use in 2008

Rate of past year Oxycontin and Vicodin use in 2008

Many of the young people who engage in pain medication abuse are simply curious or looking to experience a rush or high out of boredom. In some ways, this type of pain medication abuse can be seen as a similar (although illegal) variation of other risk-taking, thrill-seeking behaviors that young adults are often drawn to. This common tendency among youth is at least partly attributable to their difficulty in accurately assessing risks, particularly long-term ones. The concrete promise of a short-term high outweighs the more nebulous (in their mind) dangers of pain medication abuse. Young people also tend to see themselves as invincible and completely in control of the choices they make (unless coerced by external authority). The possibility of addiction does not mesh well with their own personal beliefs, so the risks are downplayed or discounted completely. This makes young adults particularly susceptible to pain medication abuse as their powers of self-deception enable them to ignore the problem until it becomes much more serious.

Prevalence of Past Year Drug Use amongst 12th Graders in 2010

12th graders drug use by category for 2010

Although there are many young people who start down the path of pain medication abuse by simply looking for a thrill – others are consciously self-medicating physical or psychological ailments. From the nostalgic perspective of adulthood, it is easy to forget or minimize the psychological stress and strains that young adults face. For many, anxiety is a near constant companion as they try and navigate the confusing social world they inhabit on a daily basis. Stresses may be academic, athletic, social, or family based, and the numbing effect of prescription painkillers can seem like a welcome relief to many young adults who are having difficulty coping. Rather than seek help from friends, family, or professionals – they may turn to a pill that offers no chance of rejection or embarrassment. In this way, many young adults may fall into the grip of pain medication abuse and feel too ashamed or frightened of the consequences if they admit they have a problem.

Specific Drug Used When Initiating Illicit Drug Use Among Children Aged 12 or Older, 2007

No matter what initially motivated our nation’s youth to start using these drugs, the addictive nature of almost all prescription pain medication can quickly lead young people into a negative cycle of long-term pain medication abuse. And, that is not the way that anyone wants to start out in life.

If you believe your child or young adult may have a pain medication abuse problem please contact us right away. We can provide you with the information you are looking for to understand why this is happening to your loved one. We can also put you in touch with the leading pain medication abuse treatment facilities to help your loved one get better and stop using.