A growing number of American teenagers and young adults are abusing prescription drugs, a government report says, with non-medical use of pain relievers and tranquillizers reaching record highs.

In 2001, nearly three million young people, age 12 to 17, reported that they had used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons at least once, the government said. The number of new users has been climbing since the mid-'80s.

Federal officials, who released the report Thursday, were promoting their education campaign highlighting the dangers of these drugs when used improperly.

"Abuse of prescription drugs can lead to addiction, misdiagnosis of serious illness, life-threatening circumstances and even death," said Charles Curie, administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services, which released the report Thursday.

He was being joined by officials from the Food and Drug Administration in discouraging misuse of these drugs. The education effort includes posters, brochures and print advertisements.

A companion report, based on a survey of hospital emergency rooms, found a steady, significant rise in visits for opiate abuse since 1994.

In 2001, there were about 90,000 visits for abuse of these narcotics, a 117 per cent rise over 1994, according to data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network. The largest increases were found in abuse of oxycodone, methadone and morphine.

The average age of these ER patients was 37.

The first report is based on the National Household Survey of Drug Abuse, an annual survey that included 69,000 people in 2001. That includes more than 45,000 people age 12 to 25.

It found that in 2001, 36 million Americans - 16 per cent of all people age 12 and up - had used prescription drugs non-medically at least once in their lives. That includes people who took a drug that had not been prescribed for them and those who took drugs only for the experience or feeling they caused.

Among young adults, age 18 to 25, seven million had used these drugs non-medically at least once.

Among teens, girls were more likely than boys to have misused drugs; it was opposite among young adults. Abuse was more common among whites than Hispanics, blacks or Asians.

The number of new users has risen sharply since the mid-1980s. The number misusing pain relievers climbed from about 400,000 then to two million in 2000.

  • Drug Facts
  • Dilaudid inhibits the ascending pain pathways in the central nervous system, increases the pain threshold and alters pain perception.
  • Dilaudid is approximately 8 times more potent on a milligram basis than morphine.
  • The effects of Dilaudid are apparent within 15 minutes and remain in effect for more than 5 hours
  • Dilaudid is often called "drug store heroin" on the streets.
  • Dilaudid, or Hydromorphone, is a narcotic analgesic prescribed for the relief of moderate to severe pain, such as burns, cancer, Kidney stones or surgery.