Overdoses on the Rise—Prescription Drugs are a Major Concern for Teens

A young woman is taking dugs
It’s important to make sure that teens and young adults have the best shot at a healthy, happy life. A big part of that means making sure they don’t experiment with drugs and alcohol. But when overdoses are on the rise, parents should implement new strategies to keep their sons and daughters safe. What can parents do to ensure their kids are protected?

Adolescents and teens are the up-and-coming leaders of society. It won’t be long before the youth of today are the adults of tomorrow, organizing and managing the country. For this and other reasons, the health of young people is important.

No age group or demographic has been safe from the country’s growing drug problem. Looking at young adults, it’s clear to see the effects of the drug problem written on their faces. Young people are increasingly exposed to mind-altering substances, especially marijuana, alcohol, meth, and opiates. More recently, young people are starting to experiment with prescription drugs, namely anxiety meds. The result? Overdoses and other harmful consequences.

Overdoses on the Rise

In the last decade, the overall number of young people (adolescents, teens, young adults, etc.) overdosing on benzodiazepines has gone up considerably. Usually, opiates are the primary culprit in overdoses. But while the opiate epidemic has indeed resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of lives ruined, child and teenage overdoses caused by benzodiazepines have surged. According to an article in U.S. News, benzo overdoses among young people increased by 54 percent from 2000 to 2015.

Rutgers published its own research on teen and young adult overdoses. According to their findings, there is a direct correlation between the increase in the number of prescriptions handed out for a particular drug and the increase in overdoses. Increase the prevalence of a drug in society and overdoses will follow, unfortunately.

Rutgers stated, “The researchers analyzed 296,838 benzodiazepine exposure cases involving children under the age of 18 obtained from the National Poison Data System. While the rate of exposure in children under the age of 6 decreased, the rate for adolescents rose from 17.7 exposures per 100,000 children in 2000 to 27.3 exposures per 100,000 children in 2015. The study also found a rise in intentional abuse, with nearly half of all reported exposures in 2015 documented as intentional abuse, misuse, or attempted suicide.”

“Our study group found that the increasing rate of reported benzodiazepine exposures appears to reflect the increasing rate of benzodiazepine prescriptions that have been reported across the United States over the past decade.”
Deadly pills

Diane Calello, medical director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School’s Department of Emergency Medicine, commented on the findings. Her concern was what needs to be done to prevent further overdoses. “Our study group found that the increasing rate of reported benzodiazepine exposures appears to reflect the increasing rate of benzodiazepine prescriptions that have been reported across the United States over the past decade. Medical providers should be aware of the increased prevalence of benzodiazepine exposures to help limit unnecessary prescribing. Parents and caregivers must be counseled on the proper use, storage, and disposal of these high-risk medications.”

Keeping Families Safe

When it comes to young people and prescription drug abuse, at least some of the upticks in the misuse of anxiety meds are the result of an effort to crackdown on opiate distribution. In fact, many doctors are now prescribing benzodiazepines like Valium, Xanax, Ativan, and Klonopin as a substitute for opioids. And that’s because opiates simply aren’t as readily available as they once were. When doctors increase benzo prescribing trends, it's more likely that young people will be exposed to such drugs. That also increases overdose risk.

It's important to realize that addressing a drug problem from the supply side of things is only half the battle. It's not enough to just reduce the supply of drugs and hope that fewer people will use drugs as a result. It just doesn’t work that way. Addicts will find other drugs to experiment with. Reducing the supply of drugs never actually addresses the underlying reasons as to why people use drugs in the first place.

Families need to help each other with the struggles that they face in life. People don’t want those who are close to them thinking that drug use is a viable coping mechanism for the struggles of life.

It's also important to educate young people on the harms and dangers of drug use. When young people know that benzodiazepine drugs are harmful and that they are dangerous, they are a lot less likely to experiment with such substances, to begin with.

Helping a Loved One Get Help for an Addiction

Helping teenager

Do you know someone who is seeking help for a drug addiction or a drinking problem? A drug habit is a harsh, debilitating, physiological, psychological, behavioral, and spiritual crisis. It may have begun as recreational use, but now it's a seemingly unbreakable trend, a daily habit, a life-threatening activity that one cannot seem to break away from.

If you know someone who struggles with an addiction, you must help them find a drug and alcohol treatment center. The treatment centers that offer the best and most effective programs are the ones that provide residential, long-term services.

Narconon offers a unique program, one which utilizes a series of techniques found nowhere else in the world to help addicts overcome drug and alcohol dependencies. Narconon works to address the cause of addiction, not just the symptoms of addiction. The goal is to find what drove the person to drugs in the first place.

It's important to recognize that, just because a prescription drug comes in a fancy bottle handed to patients by someone wearing a pharmacist’s coat or scrubs, that does not mean these drugs are necessarily safe or beneficial. Young people are experimenting with such substances and experiencing great harm as a result. Parents and guardians have to do their best to educate young people, in schools and in homes, about the harms and risks of prescription drugs.

And if you know someone who has fallen on hard times and is struggling with an addiction, make sure they get help as soon as possible.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.