Prescription Drugs: The Escalation of Use and Abuse

March 28, 2017

“It’s becoming a sadly common story. People get prescribed painkillers. They become addicted and they seek out cheaper and more potent drugs like heroin and synthetic opioids.” –Lulu Garcia Navarro, Family member of an opioid victim, NPR News (2017)

Throughout the United States, prescription drug abuse has become a major public health concern.

rx.jpgIn 2015, research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that, between 2002 and 2013, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled. Findings have indicated that the two distinct but interconnected trends that are driving America’s opioid overdose epidemic include:

  • an increase in prescribed opioid drugs
  • a recent surge in illicit opioid overdoses, driven mainly by heroin and illegally-made Fentanyl

The use of highly addictive opioid prescription drugs has repercussions that extend far beyond the individual user. Economic consequences include its impact on work and educational productivity as well as the cost of treatment and incarceration. According to a 2011 study by the American Public Health Association, in 2006, “nonmedical use of prescription painkillers imposed a cost of $53.4 billion on the US economy, including $42 billion in lost productivity, $8.2 billion in increased criminal justice costs, $2.2 billion for drug abuse treatment, and $944 million in medical complications” (AHPA, 2015).

Although a variety of treatments are available for heroin and prescription drug addiction, it is also vital and far more cost effective to help prevent the health risk behaviors related to opioid drug abuse. Botvin LifeSkills Training is an effective skills-based and evidence-based prevention program that can be utilized as a strategic measure to combat the growing epidemic of prescription opioid misuse. And now, National Health Promotion Associates, the researchers behind LifeSkills Training, has developed a middle school prescription drug abuse prevention program. The program utilizes both digital and face-to-face intervention modalities to help young adults learn healthy behavioral social and self-regulation skills such as managing stress and anxiety, as well as drug resistance skills. “The combination of drug resistance skills and life skills has been proven to be a powerful formula for preventing drug use and can be carried over throughout their teen years” (Botvin, 2016).

According to research conducted by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) the use of effective prevention programs like LifeSkills Training have shown to produce a  50-to-1 return, which has been noted as the highest return on investment of any substance abuse prevention curriculum studied.

It has never been a more important time to continue to pressure our legislative representatives, public health agencies, and school administrators to implement programs like LifeSkills Training as a means to help young adults make healthy choices and avoid the damaging effects of prescription drug use and abuse.

Contributing Writer: Madeline Liongson recently graduated from the University of Connecticut with a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Development and Family Studies as well as a Minor in Psychology. Her previous volunteer experience includes working with a wide range of students and healthcare professionals from diverse populations in Connecticut, New York and London, UK. Currently Madeline serves as the youngest Youth Board Member for the American Red Cross in the Metro New York Territory and works as a part-time Administrative Assistant at a Speech Language Pathology and Social Development center while she is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Public Health.

The Truth About Drug Use in Middle School Students

July 27, 2016

rx.jpgPrescription drugs can do a lot to help people with medical conditions and, when used appropriately, they can have a positive impact. Unfortunately, many of these drugs are misused and abused by middle-school-aged youth. According to the 2014 Monitoring the Future Survey, the prevalence of prescription drug use in 8th graders was 1.7% and rose to 4.7% by 12th grade. Thirty-three percent of teens believe it is okay to use prescription drugs for an injury, illness, or physical pain even if it has not been prescribed for them. And in 2012, The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study found that a total of 20% of children have misused or abused a prescription drug before the age of 14. Thus, it is essential to educate students on how not to take drugs prescribed to others.

Prescription drug abuse is many times a result of boredom, a need to escape troubles, or a longing to get high. Social pressures and the overwhelming desire to look “cool” in the eyes of peers can also be a driving factor to engage in these behaviors. Students may urge others to use prescription drugs by saying the common phrase “just try it for fun.” Prescription drug abuse has also become more prevalent because of easy accessibility in the family medicine cabinet. A suggested method of prevention is for parents to talk to their children through times of pressure or unhappiness

National Health Promotion Associates (NHPA) is aware of this issue, and is currently creating new sessions on prescription drug abuse for middle-school-aged youth. Based on Botvin LifeSkills Training (LST), the goal of this program is to bring attention to the dangers of prescription drug abuse and misuse while teaching students the skills to refuse them. This adaptation will educate youth on healthy behavioral practices as well as help to deter them from engaging in dangerous health behaviors.

Sources: Monitoring the future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2013: Volume I, secondary school students, University of Utah Health Care.

Writer: Amanda Flower is a rising junior majoring in Public Health at Muhlenberg College


Prescription Drug Abuse: Sharing Is Not Caring

July 26, 2016

A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that nearly 60 percent of Americans have opioid painkillers that they no longer use. Within this group, 20 percent of participants stated they shared their opioid painkillers with another person.

Those who shared their medication reported that the primary reason for doing so was to help the other person manage their pain. The second most reported reason was because the person asking for the medication did not have the money to pay for the medication or did not have health insurance.

Possession of opioids by people other than the patients to whom they were prescribed is a growing problem, because misusing prescription medication is both physically harmful and illegal.

Because prescription medication is widely used for the treatment of an array of illnesses and disorders, many Americans do not see a problem with sharing their prescription medication to help their friends and family. In an article in the Washington Post, Johns-Hopkins professor Colleen L. Barry calls for a change of public opinion, stating that it is crucial that officials send “a clear-cut public health message that these medications should never be shared in any circumstance.”

The amount of prescription drug abuse is on the rise, especially among adolescents. In a study published by University of Central Florida professor Jason A. Ford, Ph.D., 22 percent of high school students reported nonmedical use of prescription drugs at some point in their lifetime, with 15 percent reporting nonmedical prescription drug abuse within the last year.

Researchers at National Health Promotion Associates are working to develop a Middle School Prescription Drug Abuse program. The program, based on their LifeSkills Training program, aims to prevent drug use by teaching adolescents to use personal self-management skills, social competency skills, and drug refusal skills.  Developers of the program hope to see reductions in abuse by raising awareness at an early age of the potential harm that can come from sharing prescription drugs and providing the tools needed to increase resilience and stimulate personal growth.

The Food and Drug Administration lists proper disposal techniques as one way  of preventing nonmedical prescription drug abuse. To dispose of unused prescription drugs, drop them off at an authorized collector in your community. You can find authorized collectors in your community by calling your local law-enforcement agency or doing an Internet search to locate prescription drug take-back programs.

Sources:, The Washington Post, Jama Internal Medicine, The Prevention Researcher

Writer: Brooke Dugan is a rising senior majoring in Psychology and Communication at Loyola University Maryland.  

LifeSkills Training Protects Teens from Prescription Opioid Abuse

February 4, 2016

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., Feb. 4, 2016  — Recent research reveals an effective new strategy for combating the growing epidemic of prescription opioid misuse among youth. Researchers funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that a school-based prevention program, called Botvin LifeSkills Training (LST), delivered in 7th grade classrooms can help students avoid misusing prescription opioids and other drugs throughout their teen years.midschool-330-2

Through the LST program, students learn not only how to resist pressures to smoke, drink, and use drugs, they also learn important life skills such as how to make informed decisions and solve problems, how to manage stress and anxiety, and how to communicate clearly. The combination of drug resistance skills and life skills has proven to be a powerful formula for preventing drug use and even violence.

The new study also showed that LST’s impact on prescription opioid misuse made it a good financial investment for communities.  The evaluation showed that communities that implemented LST more than recouped its cost in reduced health, social, and other expenditures related to teen prescription opioid misuse.

“We know that effective prevention programs can produce a powerful public health benefit by helping teens avoid the damaging effects of drug abuse and violence. This study proves that it can also cut prescription opioid misuse and can save money,” said Dr.Gilbert J. Botvin, professor emeritus at Cornell University’s Weill Medical College and developer of the LST program. “A relatively small upfront investment in a proven prevention program such as LST can yield tremendous health and economic benefits.”

Dr. D. Max Crowley from Duke University, with colleagues from Penn State University, evaluated the impacts of LST and two other school-based interventions. However, LST was the only intervention that was effective by itself. The researchers drew the data for the evaluation from a recent trial of the PROmoting School-community-university Partnerships to Enhance Resilience (PROSPER) prevention program. PROSPER is led jointly by Richard Spoth at Iowa State University and Mark Greenberg at Penn State University, with research funding from NIDA.

Over 35 federally-funded studies show that LST protects teens against tobacco, alcohol, substance use, and other problem behaviors such as delinquency and violence. These benefits presumably would further increase communities’ economic advantage in implementing effective prevention programs.

About Botvin LifeSkills Training      

Botvin LifeSkills Training (LST) is a highly acclaimed, evidence-based substance abuse and violence prevention program used in schools and communities. LST has been extensively tested and proven to reduce tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drug use by as much as 80%. Long-term follow-up studies also show that it produces prevention effects that are durable and long-lasting. For more information visit


Paulina Kalaj

Director, Communications & Media Relations


Which prevention programmes work best for prescription drug misuse? | Prevention Hub

March 10, 2014

This six year study of 11,000 teenagers aimed to measure the success and cost-effectiveness of prescription drug abuse prevention efforts. Researchers at Duke and Pennsylvania State universities found huge differences in the effectiveness of different programmes. As Prevention Hub has reported in several other prevention stories, the best results came from pairing a school-based programme with a home-based intervention. Given the role of home in this problem, it is maybe unsurprising that school based programmes alone were generally ineffective, although the authors highlight success for the  LifeSkills Training program, which teaches social skills that build competence and encourage assertiveness. This program was also the most cost-effective…

via Which prevention programmes work best for prescription drug misuse? | Prevention Hub.

To Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse, Involve the School and Family

March 7, 2014

The illegal use of prescription drugs is on the rise, but efforts to stop prescription drug abuse through legislation and policing have proven ineffective. New research may offer some keys to solving this problem.

As more people misuse prescription drugs, the old paradigm of interdiction, or attempting to stop the importation of drugs, is becoming less relevant. We need new strategies in our society…

via To Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse, Involve the School and Family.

School Program Works to Battle Prescription Drug Abuse

March 3, 2014

New research shows that a school-based prevention program can help in the fight against prescription drug abuse among teens. A study from Duke and Penn State Universities found that while the effectiveness of school-based programs differ, one program was not only effective when used by itself but also among the most cost-effective programs studied. That program, Botvin LifeSkills Training (LST), has been extensirxvely tested and proven effective in preventing violence, and the use of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs. The LST program, implemented in schools all over the U.S. and in 36 countries around the world, fosters youth development by teaching personal coping skills, general social skills, and skills for resisting pressures to smoke, drink, use drugs, and engage in other risk behaviors.he study is among the first to measure the success and cost-effectiveness of prescription drug abuse prevention efforts.

Researchers studied 11,000 teenagers at 28 rural public school districts in Iowa and Pennsylvania for six years. The best results came from pairing a school program such as Botvin LifeSkills Training with a family intervention, resulting in a 10% decrease in abuse rates. The Botvin LifeSkills Training program was the only school program that was effective when used by itself and resulted in lower drug abuse rates among teens.

“It’s clear that effective prevention programs offer the potential for producing a powerful public health benefit by helping teens avoid the damaging effects of prescription drug abuse. This new report proves that it has the added benefit of making good economic sense,” said Dr. Gilbert J. Botvin, professor emeritus at Cornell University’s Weill Medical College and developer of the LST program. “A relatively small upfront investment can yield tremendous health and economic benefits in terms of both the immediate- and long-term positive effects our program has on the students who participate in it.”

The study notes that, by conservative estimates, prescription drug abusers cost society an average of $7,500 each year for treatment and other expenses. Botvin LifeSkills Training was also among the most cost-effective programs studied. Research shows that LST can save as much as $38 for every dollar spent.

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