National Study Reveals Teens Don’t Understand the Dangers of Medicine Abuse

Teens today are abusing prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines in part because they might mistakenly believe that they are “safer” to abuse than illegal drugs. In fact, according to our Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS) released by The Partnership at and MetLife Foundation, more than a quarter of teens (27 percent) mistakenly believe that misusing and abusing prescription drugs is safer than using street drugs.  Sadly, one in six parents (16 percent) share that misperception.
The new PATS data also reveals that, despite the power parents have to prevent this type of risky behavior, many are not communicating the dangers associated with medicine abuse to their teens. Only 10 percent of teens reported having conversations with parents/caregivers about OTC cold or cough medicine.  Parents need to clearly communicate with their teens about the risks associated with medicine abuse as part of an ongoing dialogue about substance abuse.
Other highlights of the study include:

  • Abuse of OTC cough medicine has remained relatively stable and low. Our study finds it at 7 percent, while another survey, Monitoring the Future study, reported that less than 5 percent of teens abuse OTC cough medicine. Both studies underscore the need for parents to educate themselves about this behavior and take OTC medicine abuse seriously.
  • 35 percent of teens agree that abusing a nonprescription cough/cold medicine to get high is something “cool” kids do. This is a significant increase from 29 percent in 2011. Yet, 86 percent of teens strongly disapprove of their peers’ using OTC cough medicine to get high.
  • 56 percent of teens indicate that it’s easy to get prescription drugs from their parents’ medicine cabinet, and 66 percent of parents say that anyone can access their OTC cough medicine. Parents can visit to learn more about properly securing and disposing of medicine in their home.

The good news is that teens who learn a lot about the risks of drugs at home are up to 50 percent less likely to use. We encourage you to talk to your teens today! Visit to learn more.