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Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

The prescription drugs that are most commonly abused by young people fall into three categories: opioids/pain relievers, depressants, and stimulants.

Opioids/Pain Relievers

The abuse of opioids/pain relievers by young people is a particular concern. According to the 2000 NHSDA, 8.4 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds reported having abused pain relievers at least once in their lifetime. NHSDA data also indicate that 12- to 17-year-olds represented approximately one-half of the 1.4 million individuals who abused opioids/pain relievers for the first time in 1999. The number of new abusers aged 12 to 17 who reported nonmedical use of opioids/pain relievers increased nearly tenfold, from 78,000 in 1985 to 722,000 in 1999. Data from the Monitoring the Future (MTF) Study indicate that in 2001, 9.9 percent of twelfth graders surveyed in the United States reported having abused other narcotics--a category that includes opioids and pain relievers and excludes heroin--at least once in their lifetime.

OxyContin is a brand name for oxycodone, a Schedule II drug. Oxycodone also is sold under the trade names Percocet, Percodan, and Tylox. It is an opium-based pain reliever that is prescribed for relief of moderate to severe pain. Law enforcement reporting indicates that OxyContin, which has heroin-like effects that last up to 12 hours, is the fastest growing threat among oxycodone products.

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), in 2001 law enforcement agencies and drug treatment providers in Boston, Detroit, Miami, and St. Louis as well as in Portland, Maine, and Billings, Montana, reported that many 13- to 17-year-olds became first-time OxyContin users, without previously having used heroin or other prescription opioids.


Georgia Teenager Indicted

In December 2001 a 17-year-old Georgia resident was indicted on manslaughter and reckless conduct charges for supplying OxyContin to a 15-year-old who died from an overdose of the drug.

Source: Associated Press, 5 December 2001.?

Data provided by the Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) indicate that admissions to publicly funded facilities involving 12- to 17-year-olds seeking treatment for abuse of other opiates/synthetics--a category that excludes heroin and nonprescription methadone--increased from 115 in 1995 to 191 in 1999.

Depressants

According to 2000 NHSDA data, 2.5 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds reported abusing tranquilizers at least once in their lifetime. The data also indicate that 0.8 percent of young people in this age group abused sedatives at least once in their lifetime. MTF data indicate that in 2001, 9.2 percent of twelfth graders reported having abused tranquilizers at least once in their lifetime, and 8.7 percent reported having abused barbiturates at least once in their lifetime.

Table 3. Lifetime Abuse of Other Narcotics, Tranquilizers, and Barbiturates Among Twelfth Graders, 1997-2001

? 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001
Other Narcotics* 9.7 9.8 10.2 10.6 9.9
Tranquilizers 7.8 8.5 9.3 8.9 9.2
Barbiturates 8.1 8.7 8.9 9.2 8.7

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, MTF.
*Excludes heroin.

Substance abuse treatment data indicate that abuse of tranquilizers by adolescents is an increasing concern. Data provided by TEDS indicate that admissions to publicly funded treatment facilities involving 12- to 17-year-olds seeking treatment for tranquilizer abuse increased from 97 in 1995 to 211 in 1999. Among the same age group, admissions for sedative/hypnotic abuse increased from 95 in 1995 to 118 in 1997, then decreased slightly to 113 in 1999.?

Table 4. Treatment Admissions to Publicly Funded Facilities 12- to 17-Year-Olds, 1995-1999

? 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999
Other Opiates/Synthetics* 115 140 140 147 191
Tranquilizers ? 97 ? 93 133 140 211
Sedatives/Hypnotics ? 95 ? 97 118 114 113
Other Stimulants** 182 266 174 183 135

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, TEDS.
*Excludes heroin and nonprescription methadone.
**Excludes methamphetamine and other amphetamines.


Students Abuse Xanax

Middle school students in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, were treated at local hospitals in January 2002 after ingesting Xanax, a benzodiazepine. Twenty-eight students at a Philadelphia middle school ingested the drug after a 13-year-old stole a bottle of 100 Xanax tablets from a relative and distributed the tablets during school hours.

Source: Philadelphia Police Department.?

Stimulants

Data from NHSDA indicate that the percentage of 12- to 17-year-olds who reported having abused stimulants at least once in their lifetime in 1999 (3.9%) was comparable to the percentage in 2000 (4.0%). In 1999 approximately 50 percent of the 646,000 new stimulant abusers were aged 12 to 17, according to NHSDA. TEDS data indicate that the number of admissions to publicly funded treatment facilities that involved 12- to 17-year-olds seeking treatment for stimulant abuse fluctuated from 182 in 1995 to 135 in 1999.

Ritalin (methylphenidate) is one of the stimulants most commonly abused by young people. It is an amphetamine-like central nervous system stimulant with properties that are similar to cocaine. Individuals abuse Ritalin to increase alertness, lose weight, and experience the euphoric effects resulting from high doses. Under the Controlled Substances Act, Ritalin is a Schedule II drug. It is produced commercially in 5-, 10-, and 20-milligram tablets. The drug usually is ingested orally; however, when used nonmedically, it can be ground into a powder and snorted like cocaine or dissolved in water and injected like heroin.

The potential for diversion of the drug is high because two to four million children and one million adults nationwide are prescribed Ritalin legally. Ritalin is a stimulant and typically is prescribed for children diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), illicit prices for a 20-milligram tablet can range from $2 to $20 depending upon location.?

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