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November 2nd, 2010
10:45 AM ET

Rural teens more likely to abuse prescription drugs

Rural teens are 26 percent more likely to use prescription drugs for non-medical purposes than are urban teens, researchers report in the  JAMA Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Non-medical prescription drug use  is a growing problem that increased 212 percent among U.S. teens from 1992 to 2003, according to the study. It is an area of concern because it’s associated with the use of other drugs including cocaine and heroin, and in problem behaviors such as gambling, increased sexual activity, and "impulsivity,” the study said. “Individuals who use prescription drugs earlier in life have a greater chance of later developing prescription drug dependence,” the authors wrote.

Researchers from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine analyzed data from the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, produced annually by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The survey included data for 17,872 teens ages 12 to 17; just over half  lived in urban areas, and 17.1 percent of respondents lived in rural areas.

The data revealed that urban and rural youths had the same rates of illicit drug use, which includes heroin, cocaine, marijuana and hallucinogens. But 13 percent of rural teens reported ever having used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes, compared with  10 percent of urban teens.  Among rural teens, 11.5 percent  had used pain relievers non-medically, compared with 10.3 percent of urban teens;  3.5 percent of rural teens had tried tranquilizers non-medically, compared with 2.5 percent of urban teens.

The study finds that non-medical prescription drug use was more likely if rural teens reported poorer health, depression or other substance abuse. Living in a household with two parents decreased the odds of  such use by 32 percent and enrollment in school also decreased the rate. The authors note that both family involvement and school based interventions are a good target for fighting the problem.

"The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University did a study of urban and rural differences in substance use a decade ago and found that young teens (eighth-graders) living in rural areas were likelier to use tranquilizers than their big city peers," said Susan Foster, CASA Columbia’s vice president and director of policy research and analysis. “They also were likelier to smoke, drink and use other drugs. Since that time, much research has shown that young teens with health and mental health problems that are not being treated adequately are likelier to turn to addictive substances, that prescription drugs are there for the taking in medicine cabinets across the country, and that parents are the greatest influence–for better or worse–in whether a young person turns to these drugs. Early intervention is key though, since in most cases addiction has its origin in the teen years."


soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Claire

    I'm somewhat concerned that after all these years, we still treat normal growth issues shared by adolescents and teens as mental disorders. We are not addressing the source of the pain and curiosity that results in kids seeking relief/highs in the first place. In my opinion, science has barely scratched the surface of mental health, and we overuse the "disease" model. Most parents never learned to deal with their own feelings due to ignorance and taboos, and yet suddenly we are being told that parents and mental health workers are the best sources of information for this group. I'm just not convinced we have good answers or a good system in place to handle normal human growth and development.

    November 2, 2010 at 15:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Alexia Miller

      I completely agree with Claire. The system we have currently supports ignoring those very feelings (by use of prescriptions) and the feelings that teens need to work through are taboo to society because parents, teachers, and so on never got to do the same for themselves when young! We live in an emotionally deadened world by the brutal treatment children endure at the hands of their parents so called " upbringing." We have to wake up and see the true devastating effects of what this means, in order to be able to change.

      November 3, 2010 at 15:01 | Report abuse |
  2. Improve Concentration

    Its because they have nothing else to do – at least city kids have stuff to do.

    November 2, 2010 at 23:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Xavier

    Teens are getting more indulged into drug abuse and they don't use it for medical purpose.Due to this there are many pharmacies offering fake drugs and one should be aware of such scams and should consult a doctor before taking prescription drug and look if your pharmacy is reliable or not.

    November 3, 2010 at 13:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Eli manninng

    It is true, because I have friends who after taking prescription drugs have altered behavior and impulsivity, it seems that taking painkillers such as Vicodin, hydrocodone, percocet, oxycodone, they affect the nervous system and as I have been out in findrxonline says these medicines have side effects.

    November 4, 2010 at 12:37 | Report abuse | Reply
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    September 22, 2016 at 11:09 | Report abuse | Reply

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