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Study: One-third of U.S. teens, young adults misuse prescription drugs

Almost 33% of teens misuse prescription psychoactive drugs they take for behavioral and mental health disorders, a new study has found. Photo by rawpixel/Pixabay
Almost 33% of teens misuse prescription psychoactive drugs they take for behavioral and mental health disorders, a new study has found. Photo by rawpixel/Pixabay

Feb. 2 (UPI) -- Almost one in three teens and young adults who take prescription stimulants or tranquilizers misuses the drugs for recreational purposes, according to a study published Tuesday by Family Medicine & Community Health.

This inappropriate use of these medications, known as psychoactive drugs and prescribed to address mental health or behavioral disorders, is even higher among older teens and young adults, the data showed.

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"It is important to monitor the diversity of medication misuse behaviors among youth and young adults, given their potential for abuse liability," the researchers wrote.

"[Our findings] underscore the need for comprehensive approaches toward health promotion among youth and young adults," they said.

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Psychoactive drugs can alter the consciousness, mood and thoughts of those who use them, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Examples of these drugs include prescription stimulants like methylphenidate, also known as Ritalin, pain relievers such as oxycodone and tranquilizers such as diazepam.

Commercial products including tobacco, alcohol and cannabis and illegal drugs including ecstasy, cocaine and heroin also are considered psychoactives.

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Each year, more than 33% of teens and young adults in the United States are prescribed a psychoactive drug to treat conditions that range from anxiety, depression and ADHD to pain and bipolar disorder, among others, researchers said.

For this study, they analyzed data on 110,556 U.S. residents aged 12 to 25 years who participated in the National Survey of Drug Use and Health Sampling, a federal government-led study.

Of these participants, 35% said they had taken a prescribed psychoactive drug in the past year and 31% reported that they had misused that drug, the data showed.

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Opioid prescription drugs were used by 19% of teens, while stimulants, tranquilizers and sedatives were taken by 7%, 4% and 2% of teens, respectively.

One in 10 respondents indicated that they took at least two prescribed psychoactive drugs, while 58% said they misused at least one of them, the researchers said.

Forty-five percent of those taking prescribed stimulants and tranquilizers admitted to misusing these drugs, compared with18% of those on prescription opioids and 14% in sedatives.

In addition, 87% admitted to misusing another substance, such as alcohol, cigarettes, cigars, marijuana, cocaine or heroin.

While one in four teens age 12 to 17 reported taking a prescription psychoactive drug over the past year, 41% of those age 18 to 25 used these drugs, the researchers said.

Among 18- to 25-year-olds, 35% reported misusing the drugs, the data showed.

Nearly 12% of the study participants in this age group indicated they were dealing with serious psychological distress, which was consistently associated with misuse of psychoactive drugs, the researchers said.

"Mental health and medical providers would benefit from using a team approach and having open communication with other health providers to ensure evidence-based guidelines are used when assessing for, and treating, mental health and substance use difficulties," they wrote.

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