Young people are abusing prescription pain medications — like vicodin, valium, and oxycontin — at a rate 40 percent higher than previous generations, new research shows.
The study, by the University of Colorado Denver researchers, found the abuse of prescription medicines is the second most common form of illegal drug use in the U.S. after marijuana, according to lead researcher Richard Miech, a professor of sociology.
"Prescription drug use is the next big epidemic," Miech said. "Everyone in this field has recognized that there is a big increase in the abuse of nonmedical analgesics but our study shows that it is accelerating among today's generation of adolescents."
The study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, analyzed information from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a series of annual polls of U.S. drug use, from 1985 through 2009.
The results showed the prevalence of prescription pain medication abuse among young people today is "higher than any generation ever measured," Miech said.
Most people who abuse prescription painkillers said they obtained them from family or friends.
"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 U.S. increased more than fourfold from about 40 million in 1991 to nearly 180 million in 2007," researchers noted. "Higher prevalence of analgesics makes first-time NAU among contemporary youth easier than in the past because more homes have prescription analgesics in their medicine cabinets."