Painkiller Abuse Amongst Teens

Painkiller abuse amongst teens is on the rise, half of all teens use an illegal substance while in high school, and painkillers are currently one of the most popular drugs to abuse. Read this article to find out more about painkiller abuse amongst teens.

Painkillers are second only to marijuana in the number of teens who abuse them. Twenty percent, or 1 in 5 students, admits to abusing painkillers, and the number of users in increasing at an alarming rate. In 3 years, 40% more teens started abusing painkillers. Over 2 million teens use prescription drugs illegally. About 2,500 young people start abusing painkillers every day, some of them in middle school or younger.

Part of the danger of painkillers is that teens think because they are legal drugs they must be safe to use. They are also easy to get, since many families have painkillers in their medicine cabinets and they can be purchased online. Teens sometimes get painkillers legitimately for injuries or after surgery and get addicted. Sometimes parents will even give their children their own prescription painkillers, giving teens the idea that the drugs are safe.

What painkillers do teens abuse?

There are many prescription painkillers abused by teens. These include:

OxyContin, Percocet, or Percodan - oxycodone drugs

  • Fentanyl
  • Morphine
  • Opium
  • Hydrocodone
  • Vicodin 
  • Demerol 
  • Codeine

These drugs have many street names, but some of them are:

  • Percs 
  • Vikes 
  • Oxies 
  • OC

What are the effects of painkiller abuse amongst teens?

These painkillers are opioids, which are very addictive. Teens who try to quit using opioids often relapse. Teens often crush these drugs and snort them, which may deliver up to 12 hours worth of the drug at one time. This can be fatal, even the first time a teen tries it.

Painkillers may give a temporary high, but they also have dangerous side effects:

  • Trouble breathing 
  • Lessened motor skills
  • Decreased thinking and learning abilities
  • Drowsiness
  • Apathy
  • Stomach problems
  • Addiction and withdrawal, which can be fatal
  • Overdose

Signs of a potentially fatal painkiller overdose include:

  • Severe confusion
  • Trouble breathing
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Convulsions
  • Pupils look tiny

Painkiller abuse amongst teens also has other consequences. Painkillers can sell for as much as $80 per pill, so teens may sell their belongings or steal to get the drug. Once they are addicted they will often do whatever is necessary to get painkillers to avoid the painful symptoms of withdrawal.

Painkillers are similar to heroin, which is much cheaper, so some teens move from painkiller abuse to heroin use.

How to help teens who may be abusing painkillers

Parents should teach their teens about the dangers of painkiller abuse and ask teens if they or their friends abuse painkillers. Parents should keep track of their own prescriptions and ask other family members and guests, such as grandparents, to do the same.

Many teens use painkillers to deal with stress or other problems, so parents should talk to their kids about problems in their lives and get them help from a counselor if they need to learn better ways to deal with their problems.

If teens are addicted to painkillers, they will need medical help to get through withdrawal, followed by counseling and support to avoid relapsing into using the drug. Parents should be loving and supportive of their teens going through this process, and try not to place blame for their teenís painkiller addiction.


Chris Arnold, NPR, "Teen Abuse of Painkiller OxyContin on the Rise" [online]
MSNBC Health, "Teen drug use drops as painkiller abuse rises" [online]
SAMHSA Family Guide, "A Prescription for Danger - Use of Painkillers on the Rise" [online]
Parents. The Anti-Drug. "Prescription Drug Abuse" [online]
Partnership for a Drug-Free America [online]

Related Article: Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention >>