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J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2013 Feb;52(2):196-204.e2. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2012.11.014. Epub 2013 Jan 5.

Characterization of adolescent prescription drug abuse and misuse using the Researched Abuse Diversion and Addiction-related Surveillance (RADARS(®)) System.

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  • 1Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center, Denver Health Medical Center, Denver, CO, USA.



To describe the characteristics and health effects of adolescent (age 13-19 years) prescription drug abuse and misuse using the Researched Abuse Diversion and Addiction-Related Surveillance (RADARS(®)) System.


Secondary analysis of data collected from RADARS System participating poison centers was performed. Data for all intentional exposures from 2007 through 2009 were used to describe adolescent prescription opioid (oxycodone, fentanyl, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, morphine, methadone, buprenorphine, and tramadol) and stimulant (methylphenidate and amphetamines) exposures.


A total of 16,209 intentional adolescent exposures to prescription drugs were identified, 68% to opioids and 32% to stimulants. The mean age was 16.6 years (SD ± 1.7 years). Slightly more than half (52.4%) of drug mentions involved females. The five most frequently misused or abused drugs were hydrocodone (32%), amphetamines (18%), oxycodone (15%), methylphenidate (14%), and tramadol (11%). Of all exposures, 38% were classified as suspected suicidal. Of adolescents who intentionally exposed themselves to prescription drugs, 30% were treated in a health care facility, 2,792 of whom were admitted to the hospital, including 1,293 to the intensive care unit. A total of 17.2% of intentional exposures were associated with no effect, 38.9% minor effects, 23.3% moderate effects, 3.6% major effects, and 0.1% were associated with death. Oxycodone and methadone were associated with the most deaths. No deaths were associated with exposures to stimulants.


Prescription drug misuse and abuse poses an important health problem and results in thousands of hospitalizations of adolescents per year. Further work is needed to develop focused interventions and educational programs to prevent prescription drug abuse and misuse by adolescents.

Copyright © 2013 American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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