How prevalent is prescription drug abuse in Canada?

One in 6 Canadian teens (450,000) have taken prescription medications NOT prescribed to them. Statistics show that the number of teens who admit to misusing drugs has declined from 20% to 15% over the past few years, which can be attributed in part to increased public awareness of the problem of prescription drug abuse.

However, 70% of teenagers who misuse medications to get high say they stole the pills from their medicine cabinets at home.

"Teens don’t realize that many drugs, like opioid pain relievers, are potentially dangerous when misused."

Why are these drugs being abused?

Many teens experiment with various substances to get high. Prescription drugs are considered a “safer” alternative to street drugs because reputable pharmaceutical companies produce them. Teens often have easy access to drugs in their medicine cabinets at home, and kids (even as young as eleven) experiment with these drugs without knowing the effects they can have. Teens don’t realize that many drugs, like opioid pain relievers, are potentially dangerous when misused.

What are the most common drugs being abused?

  • Pain relievers are prescribed to treat pain, including dental and injury-related pain such as oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin, Percocet), hydrocodone, morphine (e.g., Fentanyl) and codeine.
  • Stimulants are prescribed to treat conditions such as asthma, respiratory problems, obesity, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), (e.g. Adderall, Dexedrine, Methylphenidate Ritalin, Concerta)
  • Depressants, are sedatives and tranquilizers prescribed to treat a variety of health conditions including anxiety and panic attacks, tension, acute stress reactions, and sleep disorders.

What abuse deterrent methods are out or being developed in the market?

Currently, discussions are being held between pharmaceutical companies and Health Canada about imposing tamper resistant and abuse deterrent formulations for opioids and other drug categories. This should help somewhat, but it won’t resolve the issue of why kids are misusing prescription drugs in the first place. We have to get to the heart of the problem.

What can Canadians do to help prevent abuse?

The peer pressure teenagers face in their daily lives is substantial.  However, parents do make a difference! It’s important for parents to have on-going, meaningful conversations with their teens about drugs and to work on strategies together that will enable their children walk to away from difficult situations.

It’s also important for parents to secure medications that are still in use at home and to take back leftover prescriptions to their pharmacy for safe disposal.