The most likely source of illicit drugs for teenage drug abusers is not a friend at school or the neighborhood drug dealer. The danger lurks at home — in their parent’s medicine cabinet.
A University of Cincinnati study that examined over-the-counter (OTC) drug use among 7th-12th grade students found that 10 percent of the teens abused OTC drugs typically found in the home. The study also suggests that boys are at a higher risk of drug abuse than girls.
“Findings from this study highlight and underscore OTC drugs as an increasing and significant health issue affecting young people,” said Rebecca Vidourek, a University of Cincinnati assistant professor of health promotion.
More than 54,000 students in 133 Cincinnati schools took part in the study. The most commonly abused OTC medications include cough syrups containing Dextromethorphan (DXM), and decongestants.
It wasn’t just older teens who were abusing drugs. Researchers say that high rates of OTC drug use were also found among boys and girls in junior high school.
Researchers found that a student’s social contacts appeared to have a significant effect on their reported drug abuse. Those who were involved in positive activities, such as school clubs, sports, community and church organizations, were less likely to report abusing OTC medications.
Teens more likely to report taking OTC drugs were also more likely to report they had attended parties with the drugs or had friends who abused OTC drugs.
The findings of the University of Cincinnati survey appear to support the conclusions of recent studies.
A nationwide survey of 138,000 adolescents found that the risk of drug abuse peaks at age 16, much earlier than experts thought. About one in 30 teens used painkillers to get high.
“While much of the previous thinking was that misuse of these drugs emerged in the final year of high school and during the college-age years, we found that for adolescents the peak risk of starting to misuse these painkillers generally occurs earlier, not during the post-secondary school years,” said lead researcher James C. Anthony of Michigan State University’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.
A second study conducted as part of the annual National Survey of Drug Use and Health revealed that over 70 percent of people who abused prescription painkillers got their pills from a friend or relative, with home medicine cabinets the most likely place for drug abusers to get their pills.
“This is one of the greatest drug threats we have ever faced,” said Michele Leonhart, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
The data from the University of Cincinnati study was collected by the Coalition for a Drug Free Greater Cincinnati as part of the 2009-2010 Pride Survey on adolescent drug use in America. The Pride Survey is a national survey providing independent assessment of adolescent drug use, violence and other behaviors.
Early results of the study were presented at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in San Francisco. The study has not yet been published or undergone peer review.