Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

Font Size

Teens Abusing Nonprescription Painkillers

Problem More Rampant Among Girls With Chronic Headaches

WebMD Health News

June 11, 2004 -- It's a new trend in drug abuse: One in five kids -- especially girls -- are excessively taking nonprescription painkillers. The result can be chronic headaches and potentially serious medical problems like gastrointestinal bleeding and kidney failure.

This startling new finding was presented at the annual scientific meeting of the American Headache Society held in Vancouver this week.

"I've been astounded by the large numbers of kids using over-the-counter medications five or six times a week -- sometimes 15 to 20 times a week," says researcher A. David Rothner, MD, director of the Pediatric/Adolescent Headache Clinic at The Children's Hospital at The Cleveland Clinic, in a news release.

"Even more frightening was that a lot of them were taking medications without telling their parents," Rothner says. "Physicians need to specifically ask children and adolescents who get [chronic] headaches how much over-the-counter medicine they are using."

Rothner's study involved 680 children and adolescents between ages 6 and 18 who had been referred to his clinic; 41% had migraine headaches, 28% had tension-type headaches; 22% had a mixture of migraine and tension-type headaches; and 19% had chronic headaches.

He found:

  • 22% were taking too many over-the-counter pain relievers.
  • Kids abusing pain relievers were mostly girls with chronic tension headaches or a mix of migraine and tension headaches.
  • Nearly 20% of kids had reported headaches daily or nearly every day -- 80% of these were girls and 85% were A or A/B students.
  • 14% of the kids missed more than 15 school days, mostly because of chronic headaches.

A few of the children had kidney failure or stomach bleeding because of the excessive amount of medication they were taking.

"If you have a child or teen with frequent headaches who is missing a lot of school, you need to be forceful in getting an accurate diagnosis," says Rothner.

Most of the kids named school as a major cause of stress, he says. "All school kids are under stress, but some children and adolescents seem to be biologically predisposed to having headaches. Stress may play a significant role in developing chronic daily headaches."

By getting them to a doctor, parents can help kids get the right diagnosis for their chronic headaches -- and the right treatment. Parents should monitor their children's use of over-the-counter medications and limit it to two doses per week, he says. If the headaches are frequent, a doctor can prescribe preventive medication.

Though no headache medications have been FDA approved for children or adolescents, most doctors will prescribe them because limited research shows some are safe. Triptan medications are the most effective for migraines and seem to be safe and effective for children, Rothner says.

Today on WebMD

child ignored by parents
prescription pain pills
Woman experiencing withdrawal symptoms
Teen girl huddled outside house
Man with glass of scotch
overturned shot glass
assortment of medication
Depressed and hurting