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Over 40% of High School Seniors Who Misuse Prescription Drugs Have Multiple Drug Sources

White prescription pills spilled out of a white prescription bottle

According to a set of University of Michigan studies, around 11% of high school seniors reported misusing prescription drugs in the past year. Of those, 44% reported having multiple sources to obtain the drugs in question.

The studies, published in July’s the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, found that adolescents using several ways of getting prescription medications were at high risk for developing other substance use disorders. More than 70% of adolescents getting prescription drugs from multiple sources had a substance use disorder in the previous year. 

These substance use disorders could involve drugs, alcohol, or other prescription medications.

Adolescents and Substance Abuse

One of the studies featured in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry looked at the sources of misuse for three types of prescription drug – opioids, tranquilizers and stimulants. The study sought to understand the differences in behavior and motives among more than 18,500 seniors in high school.

The second featured studied looked at where adolescents aged 12 to 17 were getting controlled medications and assessed related behaviors. That study looked at more than 103,900 young people.

Based on the findings of one study, 30% of teen drug misusers took their own leftover medications, and girls were more likely than boys to do this. Boys, on the other hand, were more likely to get prescription drugs from friends or buy them.

The most common sources of prescription medications for young people aged 12 to 17 was identified as from friends or family members for free, buying stimulants and tranquilizers illegally, and doctor prescriptions for opioids. 

Based on data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the non-medical use of prescription opioids by teens is significant. One study showed 7 of 10 nonmedical teen users of prescription opioids also combine them with other substances or alcohol, significantly increasing their risk of an overdose.

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), in 2015, 4,235 young people aged 15 to 24 died because of a drug-related overdose. More than half of these overdose deaths involved an opioid. Additionally, HHS reports in 2018, 54% of students in 12th grade described prescription opioids as being easily accessible.

Resources for Parents and Students

It’s important for both parents and students to understand the risks of misusing prescription drugs. Parents should take the proper steps to dispose of any unused medications rather than leaving them in the home. Also, parents should start to look for signs of mental health issues, because public health experts say screening, prevention and early intervention are the best options.

Some of the reasons teens may turn to prescription drugs include to deal with pressure in school or extracurricular activities, peer pressure and as a coping mechanism for academic and social stress.

If your teen is struggling with substance misuse, contact Next Generation Village. We offer teen prescription drug addiction programs in therapeutic environments that are welcoming and healing.


University of Michigan News Release. “About 44% of high school seniors who misuse prescription drugs have multiple drug sources.” EurekAlert, July 17, 2019. Accessed August 15, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Teens Mix Prescription Opioids with Other Substances.” April 2013 Accessed August 15, 2019.

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “Opioids and Adolescents.” Accessed August 15, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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