Adolescents' abuse of prescription painkillers (analgesics) like vicodin, valium and oxycontin at a rate 40 percent higher than previous generations, is turning into an epidemic in the US, says a study.
"Prescription drug use is the next big epidemic," said Richard Miech, professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Denver, who led the study.
"Everyone in this field has recognised that there is a big increase in the abuse of non-medical analgesics but our study shows that it is accelerating among today's generation of adolescents," said Miech, the Journal of Adolescent Health reports.
That makes it the second most common form of illegal drug use in the US after marijuana, according to Miech.
The study drew on data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a series of annual, nationally representative, cross-sectional surveys of US drug use. The analysis used data from 1985 through 2009, according to a Colorado statement.
Miech said that the prevalence of prescription pain medication abuse among the current generation of youth was "higher than any generation ever measured".
"The increasing availability of analgesics in the general population is well documented, as the total number of hydrocodone and oxycodone products prescribed legally in the US increased more than fourfold from about 40 million in 1991 to nearly 180 million in 2007," the study said.
"Youth who observe their parents taking analgesics as prescribed may come to the conclusion that any use of these drugs is OK and safe," Meich said. Yet, the consequences are often severe.
Miech said there were now more deaths due to accidental overdoses of these drugs than deaths due to overdoses of cocaine and heroin combined. Most people who abuse prescription pain relievers report that they obtained them from family or friends.
"While most people recognise the dangers of leaving a loaded gun lying around the house," said Miech, "what few people realise is that far more people die as a result of unsecured prescription medications."