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Study: Pharmaceuticals Kill More Teens Than Illegal Substances In The US

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by Monica Thunder

on March 26, 2015

Combine the number of overdose deaths caused by heroin and cocaine, and you still haven’t matched the number of deaths caused by pharmaceutical prescription medications each year in the United States. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, pharmaceutical abuse was responsible for about 23,000 deaths in 2013  — that’s more than half of the overdose deaths in the U.S. that year.

Prescription drugs have a disproportionately large effect on teenagers. A recent study published in Journal of Public Policy and Marketing sheds light on this issue, which the CDC has labeled an “epidemic.”

Over 1,000 teenagers in 40 different regions around the U.S. participated in an online survey that questioned them about their use of alcohol, tobacco, legal drugs and illegal drugs. Participants were asked if they suffer from anxiety, if they have a desire to be “popular,” how often they participate in exciting activities, and whether they consider using drugs risky.

The authors of the study — Richard Netemeyer of University of Virginia, Scot Burton of University of Arkansas, Barbara Delaney of the Partnership for Drug Free Kids, and Gina Hijjawi of American Institutes for Research — published several conclusions.

First, their results showed use of pharmaceuticals has a linear correlation with the amount of anxiety and other psychological stress a teenager experiences each day. Pharmaseutical use also increases with the amount of alcohol a teenager consumes.

Second, their results show prescription drug use increases exponentially in circumstances where a teenager is experiencing more severe anxiety, a heightened desire to be popular, a need to be a “good teen,” or is using other restricted substances.

“Teens need help before they reach these tipping points for prescription drug abuse,” write the authors. “Adults spotting teens with very high levels of anxiety and at least moderate use of other restricted substances should realize that these are students with a high likelihood of prescription abuse.

“Male teens with a high need to be popular and teens in general appear to be at exceptional risk,” write the authors. “Campaigns must target parents as well, since they clearly underestimate both the physical risks of prescription drugs and the likelihood that their children will abuse these drugs.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), about 20 percent of teenagers reported that they had tried prescription drugs in 2014. Drugs in this category include OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax, Valium, Adderall, and Ritalin, among others. Teenagers commonly acquire these drugs from friends or relatives who have prescriptions for them. Often, the friend or relative is unaware the teen is taking the drugs.

The study points to the ways in which approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows pharmaceuticals to escape the stigmas attached to illegal substances.

“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,” write the authors.

In 1997, the FDA changed the rules on pharmaceutical advertising. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s website, drug companies are now only required to mention the most potent side effects of a drug rather than the entire list of side effects. Moreover, companies are allowed to list side effects while showing serene frames of a revitalized grandmother kayaking with her grandchildren across the screen.

In effect, less emphasis is placed on the dangers of prescription drug use and more is placed on its benefits. While the dangers of illegal substances are widely known, information on the dangers of prescription drugs are often confined to a three-second-long screen of fine print that pops up at the end of a thirty-second commercial.

According to an editorial published by the New York Times in 2013, pharmaceutical advertisements have helped cultivate a “pill for every ill” approach to health care in the United States. U.S. physicians, for example, prescribe drugs as treatment for ADHD 25 times more often than European physicians. It follows that U.S. teenagers have 25 times more access to ADHD medication like Ritalin and Adderall than European teenagers.

Several organizations work to educate the public on the risks of prescription drug abuse. The National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse, for example, organizes school related activities aimed at educating students about the risks of pharmaceuticals, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy is trying to implement a four-part plan to educate teenagers and monitor their use of pharmaceuticals.

Evidence from the study suggests these organizations have a long way to go.

there are 69 Comments

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Although I suspect this would be true being aware of the dangers of pharmaceutical drugs, the statistical comparison is questionable considering that there are basically a whole lot more people using pharmaceutical drugs than illegal drugs, which is like saying more people drink water in the United States than in Fiji simply because there are more people. So a more accurate and telling statistic for direct comparison would be to take a percentage sampling of how many drug-related deaths out of 1000 people taking prescription drugs vs. how many drug-related deaths out of 1000 people using illegal drugs.

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Where’s the link to the study?

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AnotherLover

Good point, but then again, how many kids skype heroin and cocaine from their parents’ bathroom cabinets? But even more salient, how many societies are convinced their children are incapable without a little heroin? How many societies use hard drugs on — as you said — vast numbers of their population for the purposes of behavior management? These kids are being forced into being nothing (also known as a “teenager”), while their natural urges make them want to take part in the world. Well, “taking part” in this world means keeping your head down and your hands working to make some rich f— richer. Most of all it means showing up on time and staying as long as you’re supposed to and not causing anybody any problems along the way. Forget prescription drugs — it’s no wonder outright suicide is the massive problem it is.

I’m afraid it’s brave new world time. The geneticists (eugenicists) have gotten advanced enough, pharmaceuticals, even outright deadly ones, are advertised on TV, and everybody’s sold the lie that, indeed, there is a pill for every ill. In fact there’s another pill to cover the side effects of the first one. Doctors don’t tell you anything except which drug you need your insurance company to pay the manufacturer ten times its market value for. They don’t know about health. I’m carrying a $1,500 debt for visiting a doctor once — neck spasms. They gave me drugs. One visit to a good myotherapist (muscle worker) and $65 dollars later and not only did my neck immediately feel better she also actually solved the 18-year long problem of “why” — I was sleeping with one arm tucked under my head habitually. Turns out that works a muscle full-time and the thing’s going to have to give out at some point (I always mention this story on the chance it’ll help someone. For 18 years I thought I had something wrong with my spine near my neck. Nope. Tired muscle.)

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