Parents often complicit in teens' prescription drug abuse, study finds

NEW YORK — A dramatic jump in the rates of misuse of prescription stimulants over the past four years is linked to lax attitudes on the part of parents, according to a new study, though misuse and abuse of prescription opioids has remained flat.

The study, released by the Partnership at Drugfree.org and the MetLife Foundation, found a 33% increase between 2008 and 2012 in the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs by teenagers, while nearly one-third of parents thought stimulants could improve academic performance, even in teens not diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Twenty-four precent of teenagers report misusing or abusing a prescription drug once in their lifetime, up from 18% in 2008; this includes 13% who report taking Novartis' Ritalin (methylphenidate hydrochloride) or Shire's Adderall (amphetamine aspartate; amphetamine sulfate; dextroamphetamine saccharine; dextroamphetamine sulfate), stimulants used to treat ADHD, without a prescription, and 20% who report abusing prescription drugs before the age of 14 years; Ritalin and Adderall are available in branded and generic forms.

The study was based on a survey of 3,884 teenagers in grades 9 through 12 and 817 parents, with respective margins of error of plus or minus 2.1% and plus or minus 3.4%.

"These data make it very clear: The problem is real, the threat immediate and the situation is not poised to get better," Partnership at Drugfree.org president and CEO Steve Pasierb said. "Parents fear drugs like cocaine or heroin and want to protect their kids. But the truth is that when misused and abused, medicines — especially stimulants and opioids — can be every bit as dangerous and harmful as those illicit street drugs."

Meanwhile, teens' abuse of prescription painkillers, such as Purdue Pharma's OxyContin (oxycodone) and AbbVie's Vicodin (acetaminophen; hydrocodone), remained stable since 2011. OxyContin lost patent protection last week, but has not become available as a generic yet due to new requirements for generic versions to carry the branded version's tamper-resistant properties.

The two organizations said the report, Concerning Trends in Teen Prescription Drug Abuse According to the New Partnership Attitude Tracking Study Data (2008-2012), confirmed that misuse and abuse of prescription drugs is now a normalized behavior among teenagers. Nearly one-quarter of teens say their parents don't care as much if they're caught misusing prescription drugs, compared with illegal drugs, and 33% say it's acceptable to use prescription drugs without a prescription, while 27% say misusing and abusing prescription drugs is safer than using street drugs.

Among parents, 16% said using prescription drugs to get high was safer than using street drugs, while most teenagers report the last conversation about drugs with their parents as including marijuana, alcohol and hard drugs, but only 14% reported discussing prescription drugs. More than 40% of teenagers who have misused or abused prescription drugs obtained them from their parents' medicine cabinets, while almost half got them from friends. One-in-five parents report giving their teenaged children prescription drugs not prescribed to them, while 17% of parents don't throw away expired medications, and 14% have themselves misused or abused prescription drugs.