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Addiction, NIH, Pediatrics, Women's Health

NIH podcast reveals prescription drug abuse more prevalent in teenage girls than boys

A new National Institute of Health podcast offers insight into gender-based differences regarding abuse of prescription drugs.

In general, men tend to take more prescription drugs than women except for the period of time between 12 and 17 years of age. Among teenagers, girls have almost 60 to 70 percent higher rates of abuse of prescription drugs than boys, according to an NIH release.

In the podcast, Nora Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, discusses why teenage girls and adult women take prescription drugs for non-medical purposes, how adolescents obtain such medications, how repeated drug use affects the brain and treatment for addiction.

One contributing factor to the high rates of prescription drug by teens is the dramatic increase in the number of prescriptions being written for pain medications and stimulants, says Volkow:

Since 1992 to 2009, which is close to 20 years, there has been a nine-fold increase of the number of prescriptions for stimulant medications. They’ve gone from 4 million to 36 million. For pain [medications] and analgesics the numbers have grown four-fold, from 40 million to 180 million prescriptions on a given year.

What that means is we are making these medications widely, widely available. Yes, they have very beneficial effects when used properly. But at the same time it is also clear that we may be giving many more prescriptions than are necessary. There is no evidence that we have such a high number of individuals that require them for therapeutic purposes.

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