This Just In: Kids Use Medication to Get High


Based on 2004 survey results it released yesterday, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA) has dubbed kids today "Generation Rx." PDFA President Roy Bostock breathlessly reports:

A new category of substance abuse is emerging in America: Increasingly, teenagers are getting high through the intentional abuse of medications….For the first time, our national study finds that today's teens are more likely to have abused a prescription painkiller to get high than they are to have experimented with a variety of illicit drugs–including Ecstasy, cocaine, crack, and LSD. In other words, "Generation Rx" has arrived.

For anyone who messed with cough medicine or a relative's pills as a teenager, the notion that such experimentation represents "a new category of substance abuse" is risible. While certain pharmaceuticals (Ritalin, Xanax) may be new arrivals in the family medicine cabinet, others (Vicodin, dextromethorphan) have been around a long time, and some (barbiturates, prescription amphetamines) are harder to get than they used to be.

Nor do the PDFA's own data support the idea that 2004 was the year when using medication to get high suddenly became fashionable. To begin with, its survey started asking about nonmedical use of medication in 2003, so we have only two years of data. In last year's survey, 10 percent of teenagers reported ever taking Ritalin or Adderrall for kicks–the same percentage as in 2003. Likewise, the PDFA says the 2004 survey indicates that "approximately one in five teenagers has abused a prescription painkiller to get high," compared to 21 percent in 2003.

Furthermore, it is not true that the 2004 survey was "the first time" when nonmedical painkiller use was more common than use of "a variety of illegal drugs." In 2003 the figures for lifetime use of Ecstasy, cocaine (including crack), and LSD were 9 percent, 9 percent, and 7 percent, respectively. Not to put too fine a point on it, but all of those are less than 21 percent.

After years of its ridiculous propaganda, I take it for granted that the PDFA misrepresents the hazards of drugs. Now it turns out the organization's professional prevaricators can't even be trusted to accurately describe their own research.