Ecstasy and pot use may be down among today's teens, but they're more likely to abuse family medicine cabinet drugs, a new study reports.

April 28, 2005—About one in five teenagers has taken a prescription painkiller such as Vicodin or Oxycontin to get high, according to a new study by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

In fact, the study found that the abuse of prescription painkillers was higher than the abuse of many other illegal drugs including cocaine, crack, Ecstasy, LSD or heroin in 2004.

"For the first time, our national study finds that today's teens are more likely to have abused a prescription painkiller to get high than they are to have experimented with a variety of illicit drugs," said Roy Bostock, chairman of the nonprofit Partnership. "In other words, 'Generation Rx' has arrived."

Beyond just the painkiller abuse, one in 10 teens say they have tried prescription stimulants Ritlain and/or Adderall without a doctor's order, the survey reported.

It was only the second year that the 17th annual study on teen drug abuse asked about the abuse of legal drugs. However, it was the first year the survey included a question about the use of over-the-counter (OTC) products to get high. The study found that one in 11 teens has abused OTC cough medications intentionally to get high.

In response to this study, the Partnership commissioned additional research, which will be released this summer. Early analysis of that research shows:

  • Close to half of all teens believe using prescription medications to get high is "much safer" than street drugs.
  • Close to one-third say prescription painkillers are not addictive.
  • When teens were asked why prescription medicine abuse was increasing, "ease of access" was cited as a major factor. The majority cited parents' medicine cabinets, and/or medicine cabinets in the homes of friends, as major access points.

The 2004 study found that overall, fewer teens are using a variety of drugs, including a 37 percent rate of marijuana use, down from 42 percent six years earlier, and a 9 percent rate of Ecstasy use, down from 12 percent over the same period.

The 2004 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study surveyed more than 7,300 teens, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percentage points.

What do think of this study? Are you worried about where you keep medications in your house? Do you think the abuse of prescription painkillers has penetrated the teen culture as deeply as this survey indicates? Share your thoughts on our message boards:

Parents Magazine