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Study: Youth Prescriptions Nearly Double Since 1994

White pills in a prescription bottle (


Adolescents and young adults are most likely to abuse prescription medications, which after marijuana is their illicit drug of choice. Yet prescription rates for controlled medications have nearly doubled for those age groups in the past 14 years, according to a study published online in the journal Pediatrics.

Overall, a controlled medication was prescribed for young adults, age 20 to 29, at about one out of every six visits and for adolescents, age 15 to 19, at one out of every nine encounters. The study, led by Robert Fortuna at University of Rochester Medical Center, found that from 1994 to 2007, prescription rates for controlled medications nearly doubled from 8.3 to 16.1 percent among young adults and rose from 6.4 to 11.2 percent in adolescents.

The researchers found these increased rates for both males and females and across multiple settings -– ambulatory offices, emergency departments, and for injury and non-injury related visits. Controlled medications were often prescribed for common conditions, such as headaches and back pain.

The study examined prescription patterns for adolescents and young adults, using data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS: 4,304 physicians) and National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS: 2,805 clinics and 1,051 emergency departments) between 2005 and 2007. The authors compared the more recent data with prescription patterns reported in the 1994 NAMCS and NHAMCS databases.

While the study did not examine the appropriateness of prescriptions, researchers suggested that physicians take responsibility for monitoring patients receiving controlled medications to ensure that the treatment is effective and that the medications are being used appropriately.

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