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More teens are abusing medications, survey finds

WASHINGTON -- Federal officials are concerned that teenagers are abusing prescription medications and over-the-counter cold remedies even as their overall illegal drug use continued a decade-long decline in 2006, according to a government survey ...

WASHINGTON -- Federal officials are concerned that teenagers are abusing prescription medications and over-the-counter cold remedies even as their overall illegal drug use continued a decade-long decline in 2006, according to a government survey released Thursday.

While illegal drug use by teenagers has fallen 23 percent since 2001, their use of prescription narcotics, tranquilizers and other medicines remains at relatively high levels, government investigators said.

What's more, researchers for the first time asked whether teens were using cough or cold medicines to get high and found reason for concern there, too. Such over-the-counter medicines often contain the cough suppressant dextromethorphan, which alters mood and consciousness when consumed in high doses and can cause brain damage or even death, officials said.

About one in 14 12th-graders, or 7 percent, said they had taken such medicines to get high in the last year. Among eight graders, the figure wasone in 25, about 4 percent.

Prescription drugs also were a problem. After rising steadily since 2002, the percentage of 12th-graders who said they had used the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin in the past year fell from 5.5 percent to 4.3 percent, a figure still considered unacceptably high by officials. Use of another popular narcotic, Vicodin, more or less has held steady since 2002, with 9.7 of 12th-graders, 7 percent of 10th-graders and 3 percent of eighth-graders saying they had used it to get high within the last year.

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"If there is one thing that every adult can do today to help protect young people against prescription drugs," said John Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, "it is go to your medicine cabinet, take those prescription drugs you are finished using and throw them away. If you have teens in your house, remove this hazard today."

Despite such concerns, Walters said the overall news from the survey was good, showing continued long-term declines in teenagers' use of marijuana and alcohol.

For instance, about 32 percent of high school seniors said they had used marijuana in the last year, the lowest figure since about 31 percent said so in 1994. About 30 percent of 12th-graders said they had been drunk in the month before taking the survey, down from a 15-year high of 34 percent in 1997.

The annual government-funded survey, in its 32nd year, included 48,500 students nationwide.

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