teen-opioid-useDespite a plethora of warning labels posted on the sides of prescription drug bottles, many users do not fully grasp the dangers that can accompany the used of powerful opioid narcotics. In fact, more people lose their life every year from legal drugs, like OxyContin (oxycodone) than those using illegal drugs, such as cocaine and heroin.

New research suggests that a large number of teenagers are unaware of the serious dangers present with the use of legally prescribed drugs, Science Daily reports. Unlike illegal drugs, the picture of prescription medications is often painted as being both safe and helpful, leading teens to form inaccurate opinions.

Across the United States, researchers approached teenagers and asked them to fill out a web-based questionnaire, according to the article. The participants were asked to report on their use of:

  • Tobacco
  • Alcohol
  • Illegal Drugs
  • Legal Drugs

The researchers also inquired about the level of risk the teens associated with prescription drugs, as well as whether or not they:

  • Struggled With Anxiety
  • Sought Out Exciting Activities
  • Felt A Desire To Be Popular

The findings indicated that the use of prescription drugs increased in direct proportion to psychological states such as anxiety, the article reports. Prescription drug use also increased when the use of alcohol was reported. The researchers found that when the level of anxiety or desire to be popular was high – prescription drug abuse increased exponentially.

“The CDC has classified the situation as an epidemic,” write authors Richard Netemeyer (University of Virginia), Scot Burton (University of Arkansas), Barbara Delaney (Partnership for Drug Free Kids), and Gina Hijjawi (American Institutes for Research). “Prescription drugs are seen as blessed by a trusted institution, the FDA, while increasingly aggressive advertising by drug companies simultaneously floods parents and children with messages that these substances are safe, popular, and beneficial.”

The authors concluded that:

“Teens need help before they reach these tipping points for prescription drug abuse. Adults spotting teens with very high levels of anxiety and at least moderate use of other restricted substances should realize that these are students with a high likelihood of prescription drug abuse. Male teens with a high need to be popular and teens in general appear to be at exceptional risk. Campaigns must target parents as well, since they clearly underestimate both the physical risks of prescription drugs and the likelihood that their children will abuse these drugs.”

The findings were published in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing.