Skip to content

Health & Parenting

Survey Reveals Rx Drug Abuse by Teens

Study Shows Many High School Students Use Ritalin, Xanax, or OxyContin Without a Prescription
Font Size
A
A
A
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

June 3, 2010 -- Just over one in five high school students in the U.S. admits to having taken a prescription drug without a doctor's prescription, the CDC says in its National Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

Last year was the first time the survey, which has been conducted every other year since 1991, has assessed prescription drug abuse among high school students. The CDC says it found that 20.2% of high school students said they had taken a drug such as Ritalin, Xanax, or OxyContin without having a doctor's prescription.

The survey of more than 16,000 youths found that:

  • Prescription drug abuse was most common among white students, at 23%, followed by Hispanics at 17% and African-Americans at 12%.
  • Prescription drug abuse was most common among seniors (26%) and least common among freshmen (15%).
  • There was no difference in prescription drug abuse by sex -- 20% for both male and female students.

"We are concerned to learn that so many high school students are taking prescription drugs that were not prescribed to them," Howell Wechsler, EdD, MPH, director of the CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health, says in a news release. "Some people may falsely believe that prescription drugs are safer than illegal drugs, yet their misuse can cause serious adverse health effects, including addiction and death."

Drug and Alcohol Abuse

The survey asked a number of questions related to drug and alcohol use in its 2009 tally.

It found that:

  • 72% of high school students said they had used alcohol.
  • 37% said they had used marijuana.
  • 6.4% said they had used cocaine.
  • 4.1% said they had used methamphetamine.
  • 6.7% said they had used ecstasy.
  • 2.5% had used heroin.
  • 8% had used hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD or mescaline.

Those percentages were similar to those found in 2007.

Other answers revealed what CDC called "encouraging trends" in nutrition-related behaviors in recent years. For example, in 2009:

  • 29% said they drank soda at least once daily that year, down from 34% in 2007.
  • 34% said they ate fruit or drank 100% fruit juice two or more times per day in 2009, up from 30% in 2005.
  • 11% said they went without food for 24 hours to lose weight or keep from gaining weight in 2009, down from 13% in 2001.
  • 5% said they had taken diet pills, powders, or liquids for weight reasons in 2009, compared to 9% in 2001.
  • 4% said they had vomited or taken laxatives to control weight in 2009, down slightly from 6% in 2003.

Today on WebMD

Girl holding up card with BMI written
Is your child at a healthy weight?
toddler climbing
What happens in your child’s second year.
 
father and son with laundry basket
Get your kids to help around the house.
boy frowning at brocolli
Tips for dealing with mealtime mayhem
 
mother and daughter talking
Tool
child brushing his teeth
Slideshow
 
Sipping hot tea
Slideshow
Young woman holding lip at dentists office
Video
 
Which Vaccines Do Adults Need
Article
rl with friends
fitSlideshow
 
tissue box
Quiz
Child with adhd
Slideshow