Access to Legal Drugs Fueling Teen Drug Culture

"This is all part of the liberalization and the availability of the drugs offered by the Internet," Saper says. "And who uses the Internet? Well, for sure, kids do."

Further evidence of the culture can be seen in the evolution of street monikers for prescription and even OTC medicines. Coricidin Cough and Cold, for example, becomes "Triple C" or "Skittles."

Doering, who delivers lectures on the subject of OTC drugs, says the net result is that teens are becoming more familiar with the drugs in general.

"Five or six years ago, I would mention the names Vicodin, Lortabs, Xanax and Valium, and nobody would know what I was talking about," he says. "But what I do now is tell them to nod if they know what I'm talking about, and when you ask questions about these you'd think it was bobblehead night at Yankee Stadium.

"All of them have at least heard of, if not had a personal experience with these drugs."

Growing Prescription and OTC Threat

The study reports that 4.2 percent of eighth graders, 5.3 percent of 10th graders, and 6.9 percent of 12th graders reported taking cold or cough medicines with dextromethorphan (DXM) during the past years to get high.

The NIDA study found that recreational use of the prescription painkiller Vicadin remained high among all three groups of teens studied, with nearly one in 10 high school seniors admitting to using excessive dosages of the prescription pain killer. The abuse of OxyContin, another prescription pain reliever has dropped only among 12th graders and remained constant in the younger groups.

And Cory estimates that in his high school at any given time, about 10 percent to 15 percent of his schoolmates abused OxyContin.

"This is something that we have been aware of in the substance abuse field for some time," says Dr. Gregory Collins, section head of the Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. "The survey confirms this trend."

And there is cause for concern, as teens are dying from overdoses. One California teen died in September from taking 20 pills of Coricidin decongestant, which contains DXM. And in February 2005, two 19-year-olds in Cape Coral, Fla., died after overdosing on a purified form of DXM.

DXM is just part of the problem, as many other OTC and prescription drugs can be harmful or fatal if improperly used.

"These are potentially lethal drugs," Collins says. "Some of these drugs, like OxyContin, are extremely strong.

"One or two of these pills can kill a kid."

"People tend to associate over-the-counter drugs with safety, and only illegal drugs are seen as dangerous," Doering says. "But people who are drinking a whole bottle of cough syrup are putting themselves at infinitely more danger than someone who is taking a trip on LSD.

"I'm not saying LSD is a good drug, but the notion that if something over-the-counter is virtually harmless in any dose and in any way one chooses to use it is total folly."

Companies Perhaps Partially to Blame

Arguably, the major problem in controlling the abuse of prescription and OTC drugs by teens is the fact that these drugs are easy to obtain and often cheap.

"There has been a huge increase in the amounts of these drugs available," Collins says. "These things are becoming more commonly seen, and they are finding themselves in more home medicine cabinets than ever before."

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