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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Teen Drug Abuse Rates Stay Steady

But Government Report Shows Rise in Prescription Drug Abuse
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 6, 2007 -- Illegal drug use among U.S. teens didn't drop for the first time since 2002, according to a government report released Thursday.

The report also showed a continuing rise in the use of prescription drugs for recreational purposes, a trend that is alarming drug officials.

The report, released annually by the Bush administration, showed 9.8% of American kids between 12 and 17 years of age used an illegal drug within a month of being surveyed in 2006. The figure is unchanged from the same report the year before, even though illegal drug use overall is down about 15% since 2002, according to the report.

Prescription Abuse

Officials blamed the stagnation on rising abuse rates of painkillers and other prescription drugs. Nearly 50 million Americans older than 12 years of age acknowledged using prescription drugs for a nonmedical use, a large jump from three years earlier.

Most abuse of prescription drugs involves narcotic painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin. In May, OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma was fined $600 million after pleading guilty to concealing the addictive risks of the drug.

But Bush administration officials said Thursday that most of the abused supply of the drugs comes from leftover pills in unused prescriptions.

Terry Cline, PhD, chief of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, said the agency is launching a campaign in pharmacies warning patients to discard their unused pills.

"We’re going right to that point of purchase," he told reporters.

Goals Threatened

Overall drug use rates had fallen steadily before last year. But last year's slowdown threatens to undermine President Bush's stated goals to cut drug abuse by 25% by 2007.

White House Office of National Drug Control Policy director John P. Walters acknowledged Thursday that the targets may not be met by next year. Teens' use of marijuana -- the most commonly used illegal drug -- dropped steadily between 2002 and 2005 but then held steady into 2006.

"I think [it] will depend on how well we do against pills," Walters said, referring to prescription pain killers and other medical drugs.

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