Advertising promotes drug abuse by sending the message that pills are a cure-all. Parents set a bad example by popping pills for every ill and filling their medicine cabinets with drugs.

An epidemic is a disease that spreads rapidly in a population, and that fully describes the abuse of over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs by America’s young adults. In a few short years, the numbers of young people showing up at hospital emergency rooms, drug detox and drug rehab centers has skyrocketed.

The Partnership for a Drug Free America’s 2006 tracking study has found that:

o Nearly one in five (19 percent or 4.5 million) teens has tried prescription medication (pain relievers such as Vicodin and OxyContin and stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall) to get high.

o One in 10 (that’s 2.4 million) teens report abusing cough medicine to get high.

o OTC and prescription drug abuse is on par or higher than the abuse of illegal drugs such as Ecstasy (8 percent), cocaine/crack (10 percent), methamphetamine (8 percent) and heroin (5 percent).

Direct-to-consumer drug advertising, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1997, sends the message that pills offer a cure for every ill. Which pill to take, many commercials suggest, is largely a matter of personal choice. And significantly absent are clear warnings about the overdoses and drug combinations that have killed thousands of people of all ages, and the risks of drug addiction and dependency that can only be overcome with successful drug rehab.

Maybe America’s parents should be in drug rehab.

Some parents take prescription drugs for every little up and down in life – sad, can’t sleep, can’t wake up, have a little ache, need a pick-me-up, need to relax – there’s a pill for almost everything. And confused, ill-informed doctors hand them out like candy, even to teenagers who lie about their symptoms to get them, the Partnership survey found.

The lessons being taught here are that these drugs are okay, everybody takes them, and they’re safer than illegal street drugs because they have all these legitimate uses – hey, mom and dad use them all the time and they’re not really sick.

The most important lesson of all, and one that is not being taught by many parents, is that drugs are not the solution for every little problem. And taking prescription drugs to get high or “self-medicate” is every bit as dangerous and addictive as using street drugs. If someone you care about is using drugs, whether they get them on the street or steal them out of someone’s medicine cabinets, get them into a successful drug rehab program before their life spins out of control.

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successful drug rehab program