More than 2,000 teens begin abusing prescription pills each day, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health -- making prescription pills the most common drugs teens use to get high after marijuana. According to new research, anti-anxiety and sleeping pills may carry an especially high risk of abuse, particularly among teens who have been prescribed these medications.
Teenagers prescribed medication for anxiety or sleep problems are up to 12 times more likely to abuse those drugs -- either by using someone else's prescription pills to get high or by other means of experimentation -- than those who had never had a prescription, according to the University of Michigan research.
While these medications are important in treating anxiety and sleeping problems, nursing professor Carol Boyd, the study's lead author, says that the number of teens being prescribed and misusing these medications is "disturbing."
Researchers tested 2,750 teenagers from five Detroit-area schools, 9 percent of whom had received a prescription for anxiety or sleeping pills at some point during their lives. More than 3 percent had received at least one prescription during the past three years.
They found that those prescribed anxiety medications during their lifetime were 12 times more likely to use someone else's anxiety medication than teens who had never been prescribed these drugs. Those who had been prescribed anxiety or sleeping medication within the past three years were 10 times more likely to abuse them than prescription-free teens.
White students were twice as likely as black students to use someone else's medication, while young women over the age of 15 and teens who had prescriptions for longer periods of time were more likely to abuse the medication.
Anxiety pills like Xanax and Klonopin, and sleeping pills like Ambien and Lunesta, are some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. These medications can be addictive and even fatal when mixed with alcohol or narcotics, and, as controlled substances, it is illegal to share them.
The findings were the first to indicate a correlation between teens' legal use of these medications and their later abuse of someone else's prescription for the same drugs.
"It just catches you off guard that so many adolescents are being prescribed these medications," Boyd said in a statement. "Why is it that our youth are anxious and sleepless? Is it because they are under stress, consuming too much caffeine or seeking an altered state?"