While prescription drug abuse was not new to Middlesex County, NJ, a combination of a personal tragedy and an acknowledgment of a growing teen prescription drug abuse trend prompted this community to take action. In 2003, Linda Surks, the NCADD’s Coalition Coordinator, lost her son Jason to prescription drug abuse. A Rutgers pre-pharmacy student, Jason died as a result of a prescription drug overdose. He had ordered the drugs (without a prescription) online from a pharmacy in overseas. Since Jason’s death, Surks and the NCADD of Middlesex County, Inc., have spearheaded the creation of a broad-based, statewide public awareness campaign and worked to implement prevention policies. Public service announcements, print media, curricula, and training targeting parents, the medical community, and teenagers are planned for a Spring 2008 launch.

“We’re taking every opportunity to spread the word that prescription drugs are dangerous when misused or abused. You’ve got to saturate the community with materials and training. You’ve got to encourage parents to openly and honestly talk with their teens about prescription and OTC abuse. Keep putting the message out there, and never stop. Availability and misperceptions about the harm these drugs can do when misused has complicated this issue, and we really have to sound the alarm.”

Prescription drugs, when used as prescribed, can be powerful and effective medicines. However, many teens are abusing prescription drugs to get high.

In fact, more teens abuse prescription drugs than any illicit drug except marijuana — more than cocaine, heroin, and methanphetamine combined, according to the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). More than 2.1 million teens ages 12 to 17 reported abusing prescription drugs in 2006. Among 12- and 13-yearolds, prescription drugs are their drug of choice (NSDUH, 2007).

Prescription painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin are the most often abused prescription drugs (NSDUH, 2007). The most recent Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF) found that past-year abuse of Vicodin is particularly high among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, with nearly one in 10 high school seniors reporting taking it in the past year without a doctor’s approval (MTF, 2007). And the trend is growing; over a five year period (2002-2007), pastyear use of OxyContin increased by 30 percent (MTF, 2007).


Meet Jay, a good student whose parents had no idea he was going to school high on prescription drugs. He’d been abusing drugs since he was 13. Percocet, OxyContin, Xanax, Vicodin, Ritalin, and Adderall were his drugs of choice. He entered treatment at age 17.

Then there’s Sara, who started abusing drugs at age 12. She said she could get her hands on prescription drugs just as fast as she could buy a pizza. She’d pop a pill anywhere, anytime, and no one noticed. Now Sara’s in recovery for prescription drug abuse, as well.

And finally, there’s Eddie, whose abuse of prescription drugs led to his death after overdosing on a mix of pills. A toxicology report indicated that he had 134 milligrams of Xanax – the equivalent of 67 pills – in his system when he died. Says Eddie’s mother, “Police, teachers, and parents are so fixated on street drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and Ecstasy that they are missing the start of an epidemic.”

Widespread availability, teen misconceptions, and parental lack of knowledge about risks make prescription drug abuse a challenging but imperative issue for the prevention community. “The time for action is now,” says Becky Carlson, the Coordinator for the Sussex County, NJ, Coalition for Healthy and Safe Families. “My counselors are seeing kids every day who are addicted to illicit drugs and who are also abusing prescription drugs. When the perception of harm is low, as it is with prescription drug abuse, the rate of use is going to go up. This is what’s happening right now, and we need to sound the alarm before more teens die.” Coalitions can play a powerful role through education and outreach. This Strategizer arms coalitions with messages and advice to help inform, educate, and implement strategies that will ultimately change beliefs and behaviors. You can be instrumental in saving the lives of thousands of young people, enabling teens like Jay, Sara, and Eddie to experience a safe and healthy adolescence and a fulfilling adulthood.

OTC Brand Names

Coricidin HBP Cough & Cold, Robitussin, Vicks Formula, 44 Cough Relief, and others.

The Facts

In 2006, about 3.1 million people age 12 to 25 had used an OTC cough and cold medication to get high, and nearly 1 million had done so in the past year (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration(SAMHSA), 2008). CADCA has strived to put a muchneeded spotlight on this emerging drug problem. Some young people are turning to grocery and drug store shelves and their family medicine cabinets to get high. And it’s not just a couple of pills or an extra swig of cough syrup they’re ingesting. In some cases, teens are taking anywhere from a few pills to dozens or more a day, drinking up to 3-5 bottles of cough syrup, or combining these preparations with alcohol.

OTC drugs of choice are cough and cold medicines containing dextromethorphan (DXM). A federallyfunded university survey estimates the intentional abuse of cough medicine among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders at roughly 4 percent, 5 percent, and 6 percent respectively – on par with cocaine (MTF, 2007). Other OTC drugs abused are sleep aids (Unisom), antihistamines (Benadryl), and anti-nausea agents (Gravol or Dramamine).


People who abuse OTC medicines can experience similar side effects to those experienced with prescription and illicit drugs. Overdose effects can vary greatly depending on what drugs are mixed, and the amount taken. Some OTC drugs are weak and cause minor distress, while others are very strong and can lead to more serious problems. Their abuse can cause memory problems, stomach pain, high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, fever and headaches, rashes, and loss of consciousness. New Jersey Teen Drug and Alcohol Abuse Facts.

Information contained above is courtesy of Strategizer, developed by CADCA