Teenage drug abuse is a common enough problem these days, and it is becoming even more of a problem as teenagers experiment with entire new classes of drugs. For example, if we look back about, say, 50 years, teenagers were not experimenting with opiate based drugs at all. It was simply not a problem; not even on the radar. They were drinking alcohol and maybe smoking marijuana. But of course these days, prescription opiates (painkillers) have basically become the new gateway drug of choice for young people.
Why is this happening? Basically due to education and common knowledge. Teens have learned from their peers that opiates make you feel good. Their parents will usually have an old prescription bottle of Vicodin laying around in the medicine cabinet, and this is how it all starts. In some cases, teens are even exposed to opiate drugs based on an illness or an injury, and they get the opiates prescribed directly to them.
They are calling this new phenomenon a “gateway” drug because it is leading many teens to experiment with heroin eventually. When they run out of pills, they will start asking around with their peers what they can get a hold of in order to avoid opiate withdrawal. This is how people end up taking the plunge and using heroin–not so much because they are curious or excited to try a new drug, but more because they are miserable from opiate withdrawal and just want to feel better again. They are not necessarily seeking a high but instead trying to avoid misery. Thus, many kids who said they would never stick a needle in their arm find themselves doing exactly that, simply because they initially got hooked on pain pills. Of course this does not happen every time or in every situation, but it certainly happens enough to prove that prescription pills are definitely a gateway drug.
Teens who are abusing opiate pills are more likely to experiment with other additive pills, like tranquilizers for example. They might also end up combining any of these pills with alcohol, which of course can produce dangerous combinations.
The real problem with stopping teen drug abuse is that if you campaign for complete abstinence among teens, we know that this strategy fails. Curiosity will win out in the end and teens are going to experiment. So the key is going to be teaching responsibility somehow. There seems to be no way to prevent the first use. Our best bet is to encourage a more responsible approach to drug use.