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Prescription Drug Abuse Growing Among Teens

This article originally was written for the Church of God website. (June 26, 2006)

Prescription Drug Abuse Growing Among Teens

Interview of Karl Benzio MD, (Founder and Executive Director of Lighthouse Network)
A Christian psychiatrist from Pennsylvania says parents need to be concerned about the rapid growth of prescription drug abuse among teenagers.

According to Dr. Karl Benzio, what used to be barely a blip on the illicit drug radar for teens is now the second-most widely used method to get high, topped only by marijuana in prevalence. In a survey conducted last year by the Partnership for a Drug Free America, nearly 20 percent of teens admitted to taking some sort of prescription drug to get high.

Benzio believes several possible reasons may account for the growth in the popularity of prescription drug abuse among teens. “Prescription meds are legal,” he notes, “and they’re in their cabinets, and so [many young people] take them from their parents’ cabinets. It’s not like they have to go out and take a risk of buying them and getting arrested.”

For that reason, Benzio says, at least in the minds of these teens, prescription drug use may seem like a “legal adventure” for them. And another thing, he notes, is that many kids believe if drugs have been prescribed, they must be relatively safe.

“Now, some kids understand that these medications are dangerous,” the psychiatrist acknowledges. “But a lot of them believe that, since they’re prescribed and the FDA has approved them, then they must be safe medications,” he says.

Another major factor, Benzio contends, is the easy availability of prescription drugs, and young people’s relatively sophisticated understanding of these medications’ intended effects. “Kids can go in, and they can see all kinds of different things in the cabinet,” he explains. “They’re understanding and their education about pharmacology is much more advanced than [mine] as a teenager.”

The Christian medical professional believes having a rudimentary understanding of the potential of various prescription medications may make many youth more likely to try these drugs. “So,” he says, “knowing — sort of — what’s in the cabinet and what that might be able to do for them, at least from their vantage point, makes a lot more impression.”

Benzio says parents need to watch their medicine cabinets closely, taking especial note of drugs that were prescribed after surgeries or other illnesses. Many commonly prescribed painkillers are among the most popularly abused drugs, he notes. And, the doctor emphasizes, while use of illegal drugs like marijuana, heroin, and cocaine appears to be going down or at least leveling off, prescription drug abuse is increasing at an alarming rate.

Many teens have the idea that because certain drugs can be obtained by prescription, those drugs are clean and do not carry the same stigma as cocaine or heroin, Benzio observes. Unfortunately, he warns, prescription drug abuse can still lead young people down the same trail of self-destruction as those illicit drugs.

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