Study: Rural Teens Are More Likely to Misuse Prescription Drugs

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Contrary to what the pill-popping kids on Gossip Girl would have you believe, city-dwelling teenagers are actually significantly less likely than their rural counterparts to use prescription drugs such as painkillers and tranquilizers for non-medical reasons.

Researchers from the University of Kentucky surveyed 17,872 teens aged 12 to 17; about half of the kids lived in an urban setting and 17% lived in rural environs. The study found that 10% of city teens said they had experimented with prescription drugs they didn’t need, and 13% of rural kids reported doing the same — overall, that amounts to a 26% increase in risk in rural areas. (More on Addiction Files: Recovering From Drug Addiction, Without Abstinence)

When it came to illicit drugs like cocaine and marijuana, however, geography mattered less: all teens reported experimenting with these drugs at about the same rate. The researchers suggest that kids’ drug-taking behavior may more to do with access than attitude. Urban adolescents are more likely to be able to acquire a wide variety of drugs, but rural teens are more often forced to source what’s around them — typically that means leftovers in Mom and Dad’s medicine cabinet.

Still, the study finds that several factors may reduce the risk of drug experimentation in rural teens: kids in two-parent households were 32% less likely to misuse prescription drugs than kids in homes with only one parent, and teens who stayed in school, had better physical and mental health and did not use other substances were also less likely to experiment with prescription drugs. (More on What Is Causing that Musty Smell in Recalled Pills?)

“Much research has shown that young teens with health and mental health problems that are not being treated adequately are likelier to turn to addictive substances, that prescription drugs are there for the taking in medicine cabinets across the country, and that parents are the greatest influence — for better or worse — in whether a young person turns to these drugs,” Susan Foster of Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse told CNN. “Early intervention is key though, since in most cases addiction has its origin in the teen years.”

The new study was published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

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