Prescription Sharing Among Teens Dangerous

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

What if a teenager with acne who is taking Accutane - a drug linked to birth defects - gives some to her friend, who is pregnant but does not yet realize it? Unfortunately, this is a realistic scenario.

A new study shows that one in five U.S. adolescents “lends” or “borrows” diverse prescriptions, with consequences that are sometimes dangerous or even deadly.

Earlier research had established that almost 40 percent of U.S. adults “lend” or “borrow” prescription drugs.

“However, prior to our study, no one had asked adolescents how often they shared prescription medications, which meds they shared and what some of the outcomes were,” said lead study author Richard Goldsworthy, Ph.D., director for research and development at Academic Edge, Inc.

The study appears online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.


In urban and suburban settings nationwide, Goldsworthy’s team interviewed 592 English- and Spanish-speaking youngsters, ages 12 to 17, both black and white. Researchers asked whether the youngsters had ever “borrowed” or “loaned” a prescription drug and, if so, what kind. They also asked whether they gave or received any warnings or instructions with the medication and about outcomes. For example, did the person taking the drugs visit a doctor anyway? Did side effects or allergic reactions occur?

In addition to the danger of unforeseen side effects, prescription sharing can lead to delayed or suboptimal care, when teens postpone or skip needed appointments thinking they have addressed a problem. Misuse of “shared” antibiotics aggravates the growing problem of antibiotic drug resistance.

Additionally, the 32.4 percent of youth who did eventually see a physician often did not reveal having taken a “borrowed” medication. This can lead to unforeseen drug interactions.

“Other researchers have studied people selling prescription drugs, but we looked at people with good intentions, trying, for instance, to help a friend who lacked money or transportation for a doctor’s visit,” said study co-author Chris Mayhorn, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at North Carolina State University.

Melissa Haddow, executive director of the Community Partnership of the Ozarks, said that the findings are especially important “for physicians, prevention coalitions, school counselors, parents and the youth themselves.”

She said that past research has explored adolescent “sharing” of pain and anti-anxiety medications, but that sharing of antibiotics, birth control pills and allergy medications has not been well studied. “This work adds to our knowledge about a growing problem….and highlights the diversity of medications being abused this way, which had not been recognized.”



Let’s be honest. Drugs and alcohol don’t taste good or smell good. So why are so many teens using them? It basically comes down to one reason – pressure. Teens face peer pressure every day in school, and it can be difficult to say no when doing drugs seems like the cool thing to do. I’m an 18-year-old girl who has personally never experimented with drugs or alcohol. I think this is because I’m not easily influenced and because I have a great relationship with my parents. Also, there are so many other ways to “escape from pressure in life” that are not dangerous to a person’s health –just involve yourself in positive activities such as fun sports, reading, art, community service, etc.