A recent U.S. government study has revealed a decrease in the use of marijuana and cocaine, in every generation since the 1960s, along with a large increase in the abuse of prescription medication by young people.
Richard Miech, professor at the University of Colorado at Denver, presented the statistics and analysis of his study in a lecture titled “Trends in Illegal Drug Use Over the Past 25 Years: A Cohort or Period Process?” Miech said his statistics were based on a survey of over 700,000 Americans between the ages of 15 and 64.
“The results regarding marijuana and cocaine were what was expected. Marijuana and cocaine use has decreased dramatically over the past several decades,” Miech said. “Although roughly 20 percent of Americans between 20 and 24 have smoked marijuana in the past year, overall drug use has declined generation by generation since the baby boomers.”
However, Miech said, a problem that is beginning to reveal itself in today’s youth is the abuse of prescription medication. Miech said the usage of prescription drugs in a non-medical way has become the second-most common type of drug use among young people and has increased over the past two and a half decades.
Miech said prescription medications are the leading cause of drug use overdose mortality.
“It’s pretty scary. The chances of young people using prescription drugs non-medically has increased four-fold over the last 25 years,” Miech said “It’s a whole new beast.”
Junior business major Andrew Bowen said he has been exposed to this emerging problem.
“Xanax, Oxycontin, Vicodin, I hear of people doing it all the time,” Bowen said. “They’re even more open about abusing medication than with marijuana use.”
Bowen said he believes people abuse prescription medication because they think it is safer.
“They think there’s no danger to it because it’s legal in some context,” Bowen said.
Professional private practice counselor James Banks said he has worked with people with medication abuse problems.
“[Some people] will reach for a substance to try to alleviate their pain,” Banks said. “But oftentimes, that makes their depression much more intense.”
Banks said the best way to approach prescription medication abuse is from a psychological point of view.
“There are healthier options to getting out unwanted feelings,” Banks said. “Drinking and consuming prescribed medication is a very dangerous combination. A lot of times people don’t realize how harmful that can be. When you do that, you’re playing with fire.”
Banks said he believes the best way to combat this is to let people know there are counseling resources available.
“Reaching out for help is a strength, not a weakness. It’s not a bad thing — it’s a smart thing,” Banks said. “Taking care of your psyche is just as important as taking care of your body.”
Banks said doctors must be weary of these issues when prescribing medication.
“Hopefully, doctors will begin gathering more information on people’s social history and family background,” Banks said. “That way they can avoid prescribing medication in instances when there may be better options.”
Banks said prescription medications are not going away, so people must become better informed about the dangers of abusing them.
“As a parent, the number one thing is to educate your child,” Banks said. “It’s challenging growing up, but there are people and resources available that can help.”