Trends in Adolescent Prescription Drug (Rx) Abuse

Where Do Teenagers Get Prescription Drugs?

  • Sixty-four percent of youth ages 12 to 17 who have abused pain relievers say they got them from friends or relatives, often without the other person’s knowledge. (SAMHSA, 2008).
  • More than 60 percent of teenagers say prescription pain relievers are easy to get from the medicine cabinet at home. Half of teens say they are easy to get through other people’s prescriptions; and more than half say prescription pain relievers are “available everywhere” (Partnership for a Drug-Free America, 2006).
  • Almost forty percent of youth ages 14 to 20 say it is easy to get prescription drugs online or by phone. Of that total, more girls than boys said it was easy (48% vs. 31%) (Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2007).

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Trends in Adolescent Prescription Drug Abuse

  • Nearly one in five teens report abusing prescription drugs to get high (Partnership for a Drug-Free America, 2006).
  • More than 2.1 million teens ages 12 to 17 reported abusing prescription drugs in 2006. Among 12- and 13-year olds, prescription drugs are their drug of choice (SAMHSA, 2008)
  • Over half of teens say they abuse prescription painkillers because the medications aren’t illegal; one in three believes there is less shame attached to using prescription drugs than illicit drugs; and one in five said parents “don’t care as much if you get caught” abusing prescription drugs (SAMHSA, 2008).

Prescription Drug (Rx) Abuse


Painkillers are drugs commonly prescribed for pain and are only legally available by prescription. Painkiller abuse can be dangerous, even deadly, with too high a dose or when taken with other drugs, like alcohol.

Brand names include: Vicodin, Tylenol with Codeine, OxyContin, and Percocet.


Depressants, or downers, are prescribed to treat a variety of health conditions including anxiety and panic attacks, tension, severe stress reactions, and sleep disorders. Also referred to as sedatives and tranquilizers, depressants can slow normal brain function.

Brand names include: Klonopin, Nembutal, Soma, Ambien, Valium, and Xanax.


Stimulants, or uppers, are most commonly prescribed for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but they are also used to treat a variety of conditions such as asthma, respiratory problems, obesity, and sleep disorders such as narcolepsy. When taken in higher doses, these drugs can produce euphoric effects and counteract sluggish feelings.

Brand names include: Concerta, Dexedrine, and Ritalin.


Steroids are used to medically treat people with abnormally low testosterone levels or symptoms of body wasting, as is the case with cancer patients. Abuse of steroids is often related to physical appearance, such as a desire to build muscle or change body shape.