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Sources of Controlled Substances for Adolescents who Misuse Prescription Drugs

Over one million adolescents in the US misused prescription drugs in 2016. Using information from the 2009-2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a recent study investigated the most common sources of controlled substances for adolescents as well as risk factors for prescription drug misuse.


This study looked at multiple potential sources of prescription drugs for adolescents, including physicians, theft/fake prescriptions, obtaining from a friend/relative for free, purchasing, other sources, or multiple sources. Data was analyzed so that opioids, stimulants, and sedatives were viewed separately.


The results showed that obtaining prescription drugs from a friend or relative for free was the most common way that adolescents acquired controlled substances. For opioids, physicians were a common source, and for stimulants and sedatives adolescents were likely to purchase them from another source.


Over 70% of participants who misused prescription drugs had experienced symptoms of substance use disorder in the previous year. This, along with depression, was linked to using multiple sources, purchasing, and use of fake prescriptions rather than physician sources to acquire prescription drugs.


These findings are important because in those aged 12-17, substance use disorder and depression are linked to seeking out controlled substances through purchasing, fake prescriptions, or theft. As this population matures into young adults, prevention efforts can be made to intervene with those who are at high risk to misuse prescription drugs and obtain then illegally.


Take Away: Most adolescents who misuse prescription drugs acquire them from friends or family for free. However, adolescents who have symptoms of substance use disorder or depression are likely to obtain prescription drugs through purchasing or theft.


Wilens, T.E., Schepis, T.S., McCabe, S.E. (2018). Prescription Drug Misuse Sources of Controlled Medications in Adolescents. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2018.09.438

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