For teens, prescription drugs are easy to come by

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© Visuals Unlimited/Corbis

© Visuals Unlimited/Corbis

More then one third of U.S. teens say they can get a hold of prescription drugs—to use for getting high—within just a day, according to a study from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Among kids between the ages of 12 and 17, nearly one in five said they would be able to access prescription drugs within an hour.

Researchers interviewed 1,000 teens by phone between March 2 and April 5 of this year, asking them about their access to—and use of—substances ranging from alcohol and marijuana to prescription drugs and cocaine. Sixty-five percent of teens reported getting drunk at least once a month, but among 17-year-olds, 85% said they drank to get drunk at least once a month. (These figures may be on the conservative side as well, the researchers point out, as teens may be reluctant to tell the full story by phone.)

The study also explores the relationship between alcohol consumption and other types of drug use. Compared with teens who have never tried alcohol, those who got drunk on a regular basis were four times as likely to know of peers who abuse prescription drugs, and more than twice as likely to know of contemporaries who had tried hard drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin. Kids who reported getting drunk at least once a month were also 18 times more likely than those who never drank to have tried marijuana.

In the past two years, there has also been a jump in how easy it is for teens to buy marijuana, according to the study. In 2007, 19% of teens said that pot was easier to come by than cigarettes, beer or prescription drugs; in this year’s survey, 26% said they could easily buy it.

The researchers also found correlations between alcohol and marijuana use and increased likelihood for potentially harmful sexual encounters. Kids who got drunk or smoked marijuana regularly were twice as likely to report knowing a girl who had been forced to do something sexual against her will. Almost every single teen surveyed said they thought girls needed to have their guard up when they are with boys who have been drinking.

Yet for researchers, perhaps the most important findings had to do with just how much parental behavior can impact teens. Kids who believe their father approves of their drinking are more than twice as likely to get drunk regularly, they found. And among the roughly one third of teens who have seen at least one parent drunk, compared with kids who have never seen a parent intoxicated, they were more than twice as likely to drink regularly, and three times more likely to have smoked both marijuana and cigarettes.

In a survey of 452 parents of the teens included in the study, though nearly all (96%) said that it was important to them that their teen not try marijuana, only half (53%) thought this expectation was at all realistic, and though 93% of parents said they thought marijuana could be harmful, 21% said smoking pot was just a normal part of being a kid.