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For America's teens and young adults, prescription drug abuse paves a wide path to illicit drug use

America's war on street drugs routinely garners headlines but much less attention is given to our problem with prescription drug abuse, despite the fact that it is more widespread than abuse of all types of illicit drugs combined, excepting only marijuana. And despite their therapeutic purposes, controlled prescription drugs can be just as deadly as heroin, cocaine or other street drugs.

"Americans are so accustomed to trusting the medical community that they don't have the same sense of danger about these drugs that they do with street drugs," stated Ryan Thorpe, Director of Admissions at Narconon Arrowhead, a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in Canadian, Okla. "Children are given prescription drugs throughout their childhoods, so how bad can it be to raid the medicine cabinet, accept a few pills from a friend or order your own supply from an unscrupulous Internet site? It can be bad enough to account for 23 percent of all drug-related emergency room admissions and more than 20 percent of all single drug-related emergency room deaths. ER admissions from this cause have grown three to four times faster than admissions for heroin or cocaine use."

One of the most frequently abused drugs is oxycontin, an opioid (opium-like) painkiller. The strength of oxycontin made it a valuable painkiller for those people suffering from severe pain that no other painkiller would touch. The higher dosage was made safe for use by administering it in a time-release formulation. The downside: all abusers had to do was to crush or dissolve the tablet to thwart its time-release mechanism. The result of abuse was a high similar to heroin.

Also prone to abuse are stimulants such as ritalin, often available from a young friend who would rather sell the pills than take them, anti-anxiety drugs valium and xanax, and steroids. In 2003, approximately 6 percent of the U.S. population admitted abusing controlled prescription drugs - that's 15.1 million people. Growth of this type of abuse far outstrips the growth in use of marijuana, cocaine or heroin.

"One of the worst aspects of this problem is that it predisposes young abusers to street drug use," added Thorpe. "Teens who abuse controlled prescription drugs are twice as likely to use alcohol, five times more likely to use marijuana, 12 times more likely to use heroin, 15 times more likely to use ecstacy and 21 times more likely to use cocaine.

"By failing to conquer this epidemic, we are creating a future epidemic of street drug use. All the drug enforcement efforts in the world will be wasted when these teens and young adults graduate from controlled prescription drugs to street drugs. The tidal wave of demand will ensure that heroin, cocaine and other drugs will make it to the streets no matter what barriers are placed in the way. Effective rehabilitation that eliminates drug cravings and restores a person's ability to enjoy a drug-free life is essential, along with drug education that keeps new teens and young adults from falling into the same trap."

Thorpe explained that the Narconon Arrowhead program has been successful in helping adults both young and old create new drug-free lives for themselves for more than 40 years. "Six out of 10 of our graduates are drug-free two years after completion of our program, regardless of the type of drug that was being abused. This is the kind of success that will turn this dangerous situation around."

For information on Narconon's successful drug treatment and educational programs and materials, contact Narconon Arrowhead at 1-800-468-6933 or visit their web site at In more than 120 centers around the world, Narconon programs restore drug abusers and addicts to a clean and sober lifestyle.

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