More U.S. teens getting dangerous prescriptions: study

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - The chance that a teenager or young adult will received a prescription for a controlled medication has nearly doubled in the last 15 years in the United States, according to a study.

A pharmacy employee looks for medication as she works to fill a prescription while working at a pharmacy in New York December 23, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

In 2007, one of out every nine teens and one out of six young adults in their 20s received prescriptions for medication such as pain killers, sedatives and stimulants that could potentially be abused, the study, led by Robert Fortuna at the University of Rochester in New York, warned.

While he told Reuters Health that this doesn’t necessarily mean that teenagers and young adults will either abuse the medications or pass them onto others, it does reinforce the need to let people know how dangerous the drugs can be -- and the need to monitor their use.

“Physicians need to have open discussions with patients about the risk and benefits of using controlled medications, including the potential for misuse and diversion,” he said.

“Patients should also be monitored closely to ensure that their symptoms are adequately being treated and to ensure that prescriptions are being used as prescribed.”

The study also did not address whether young people are getting too many of these prescriptions and doctors should cut back, he added.

The study, which focused on controlled medications, was based on data from 4,304 doctors and 3,856 clinics and emergency departments.

In 1994, only 6 percent of teens received a prescription for a controlled medication. By 2007, more than 11 percent were getting them.

The same trend held for young adults, increasing from 8 percent to 16 percent in the same time period.

Young people most frequently received prescription for opioid drugs, which are pain relievers, for back or other muscular pain, injury or insomnia. Prescriptions for Ritalin and other stimulants were given for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and psychiatric problems, which also elicited prescriptions for sedatives.

Fortuna said there were a number of reasons for the rise, including more belief in treating pain, regulatory changes and physicians becoming more comfortable with opioids.

But Cindy Thomas at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, who reviewed the study for Reuters Health, said the increases were “clearly alarming.”

“One has to question the increased diagnosing and treatment of psychiatric conditions and lower threshold for prescribing both pain medications and psychiatric medications in this population,” she said in an e-mail to Reuters Health.

“This study indicates that there are many more abusable prescriptions in peoples’ medicine cabinets, in homes where there are children.” SOURCE: http:/

Reporting by Alison McCook at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies