Imagine one teenager who has acne giving some Accutane, a prescription medication, to a friend. The friend is pregnant and does not know it yet. Accutane is linked to birth defects. This kind of scenario among adolescents is much more common than people realize in the USA.

A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that 1 in 5 American adolescents lends or borrows prescription drugs, the consequences of which are potentially dangerous, and even fatal.

The authors in this study explained that prior research had already found that 40% of US adults do this with prescription drugs.

Lead study author Richard Goldsworthy, Ph.D., director for research and development, Academic Edge, Inc. said “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.”

Goldsworthy and team interviewed 592 English and Spanish speaking black and white adolescents aged 12 to 17 from urban and suburban environments nationwide. The researchers asked the teenagers whether they ever borrowed or loaned a prescription medication, and if they had, what kind. They also asked them whether they gave or received any instructions or warnings with the drugs, and about outcomes – Were there any side effects or allergic reactions? Did the person taking the medication see a doctor anyway?

The dangers associated with prescription drug sharing are not just limited to potentially hazardous unforeseen side effects. If the teenager thinks the problem is addressed, he/she is less likely to receive the best care because professional medical attention is either avoided or postponed. Sharing prescription antibiotics exacerbates the growing antibiotic drug resistance problem.

32.4% of adolescents who had shared a prescription medication but eventually did see a doctor often did not explain that they had borrowed medication, raising the risk of unforeseen drug interactions. This omission of key data could make it harder for a doctor to make a proper diagnosis if some of the signs or symptoms experienced by the patient may be caused by the shared medication.

Study co-author Chris Mayhorn, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, North Carolina State University, said “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.”

These findings are vitally important “for physicians, prevention coalitions, school counselors, parents and the youth themselves,” said Melissa Haddow, executive director of the Community Partnership of the Ozarks. Haddow added that the new data on the sharing of antibiotics, birth control pills and allergy medications “adds to our knowledge about a growing problem….and highlights the diversity of medications being abused this way, which had not been recognized.”

Goldsworthy RC, Mayhorn CB.
“Prescription medication sharing among adolescents: prevalence, risks, and outcomes.”
J Adolesc Health online, 2009.

Written by Christian Nordqvist