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If you’ve never asked yourself that question before, it’s high time to consider it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 5 high school students in the U.S. has taken a prescription drug,such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Adderall, Ritalin or Xanax without a doctor’s prescription. All told, 15.4 million teens reported misusing prescription drugs at least once in 2007 (the most recent stats), according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Abusing over-the-counter drugs, such as cough medicine recreationally, is also a widespread problem, especially among U.S. eighth to twelfth graders, NIDA says.

Teens use these drugs to get high, to cram for tests, lose weight or just because their friends are doing it. But, in general, “they use them because the drugs make them feel happy and change their normal frame of reference,” says Dr. David J. Mendelson, vice president of medical affairs for EmCare, a company that manages more than 400 hospital emergency departments in 40 states. The teen years are ripe for this sort of thing because a child’s brain isn’t fully mature until age 25. Until then, they’re prone to risk taking and living in the moment when it comes to decision making.


Sandra Gordon