Psychiatric Drugs Misused By A Third of Youths Prescribed Medications: Study

Nearly one-third of teens and young adults misuse psychiatric drugs like Abilify and Risperdal, according to the findings of a new study. 

In a report published this month in the medical journal Family Medicine and Community Health, Harvard researchers evaluated the drug use habits among teens and young adults between the ages of 12 and 25 years, using self-reported surveys from more than 110,000 participants in the 2015–2017 National Survey of Drug Use and Health.

According to the findings, about one-third of the youth involved used at least one prescribed psychoactive drug, while 6% said that they used two or more.

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Of those who used the medications, researchers indicated that at least one-third of the youths provided answers that indicate they misuse the drugs. However, among those that were taking two more or more medications, nearly 60% abused at least one of the drugs.

Overall, nearly 1.3 million teens and young adults reported misusing prescription drugs, with 3% of users classified as having substance use disorder.

Researchers noted that the use and abuse of prescription medications increases with age, with 41% of young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 reporting psychoactive prescription drug use, and 14% of the young adults using multiple drugs.

Roughly 20% of participants in the survey also reported using addictive opioids, such as Vicodin, OxyContin or other narcotic painkillers. Nearly 10% reported using stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin, 4% reported using tranquilizers such as Xanax, Valium or Ambien, and 2% reported taking sedatives such as Klonopin or Ativan.

Nearly 18% of opioid painkiller users reported misusing the drug, or the equivalent of nearly 1 million teens and young adults. Roughly 40% of tranquilizer uses also reported misuse, or nearly half a million youth, 24% of stimulant users reported misused, and 14% of sedative users.

Opioid misuse and abuse increased with more recent use of non-prescription substances like alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Similarly, participants were more likely to report using multiple substances together, up to five substances at a time, if they also used non-prescription substances.

“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. “Modifiable risk factors for prescription substance misuse, such as tobacco and other non-prescription substance use, underscore the need for comprehensive approaches towards health promotion among youth and young adults.”


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