1 in 5 teens abuses prescription meds

One in five US high school students has abused prescription drugs, including powerful medications such as OxyContin and Percocet, a new study showed.

White teens were the most likely to say they had abused prescription drugs, with 23% admitting they had taken a drug such as OxyContin, Percocet, Xanax or Ritalin without a doctor's prescription, the study by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found. And 17% of Hispanic teens and 12% of blacks said they had abused prescription medications.

Alcohol use

The 2009 study, which surveyed 16,000 US high school students, also found that nearly three-quarters of US teens have used alcohol, more than a third - 37% - have used marijuana, 6.4% have used cocaine, nearly 7%have used ecstasy and 4% have use methamphetamine.

"Some people may falsely believe that prescription drugs are safer than illegal drugs yet their misuse can cause serious adverse health effects, including addiction and death," said Howell Wechsler, director of the CDC's division of adolescent and school health.

Risky behaviour

The findings come from the National Youth Risk Behaviour Survey (YRBS), which has been conducted every other year since 1991. The survey monitors six "priority health-risk behaviours," including drug and alcohol use, which contribute to the four main causes of death of US teens and young adults.

Those causes of death are motor vehicle crashes (30%), unintentional injuries (16%), homicide (16%) and
suicide (12%).

Other risky behaviors that common among teens and young adults were seatbelt use - one in 10 teens rarely or never wore a seatbelt when riding in a car driven by someone else - and motorcycle helmet use. More than a quarter of US teens surveyed said they had ridden a motorbike in the 12 months before the poll, but only around a third had worn a helmet.

Driving under the influence

One in 10 young Americans also admitted to driving a car after drinking alcohol, and 28% said they had been a passenger in a car driven by someone who had been drinking.

Nearly one in five students said they had carried a gun, knife or club at least once during the 30 days before they took the survey, and nearly 6% said they had taken a weapon onto school property.

White boys were the most likely to say they had carried a weapon - just over 29% - followed by 26% of Hispanic boys and 21% of black boys.

Around a third of the students said they had been in a physical fight in the last 12 months, and one in 10 had experienced "date violence," or been "hit, slapped or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend," the study found.

The question about prescription drug use was asked for the first time last year. - (Sapa, June 2010)

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