(NaturalNews) Although prescription drug abuse among both children and adults now rivals illegal street drugs in both prevalence and lethality, most parents are not particularly concerned about such abuse among children and teenagers, according to the most recent University of Michigan Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health.
In addition, parental support is weak for many proposed policies that could help restrict access to commonly abused narcotic painkillers like Oxcycontin or Vicodin.
"This is a national problem and a growing problem," researcher Sarah J. Clark said. "The results of this poll are a signal that parents may not be aware of the significant rates of misuse of narcotic pain medicine, which highlights the tremendous challenge of addressing this national problem."
Only 35 percent of parents said that they were "very concerned" about the misuse of narcotic painkillers (opioids) by children and teenagers in their own communities. Even fewer - 19 percent - were very concerned about the misuse of such drugs in their own families. Strikingly, white parents had the lowest rates of concern (13 percent) about abuse in their families, compared with Hispanic (26 percent) or black (38 percent parents), even though painkiller abuse is three times higher among white teenagers than among black or Hispanic teenagers. White parents were also significantly less likely than black or Hispanic parents to support policies that would limit children's access to prescription painkillers.
Parents underestimate seriousness of problem
Recent studies have shown that more overdose deaths are caused by narcotic painkillers than by cocaine and heroin combined. Nationwide, rates of prescription drug abuse now equal or outstrip those of all illegal street drugs combined.
In addition, studies have shown that 75 percent of narcotic painkiller abusers obtain the drugs from someone with a valid prescription - typically either themselves, a friend or a relative. The new poll confirmed the ease with which children and teenagers can obtain such drugs: 35 percent of parents said that they had received at least one pain drug for their children in the past five years, with half of these being narcotics. 66 percent of parents had received a prescription painkiller for at least one household adult in the past five years.
Yet, nearly 50 percent of parents surveyed said they did not support requirements that people return unused pain drugs to a doctor or pharmacy, and 59 percent did not favor a requirement that painkiller prescription refills be obtained only from a doctor's office.
66 percent of parents did support laws that would require parents to show identification before purchasing a narcotic painkiller for a child, while 57 percent supported regulations prohibiting people from obtaining a narcotic painkiller prescription from more than one doctor. But in general, the researchers noted, the parental responses indicated a low level of concern about the problem.
"Recent estimates are that one in four high school seniors have ever used a narcotic pain medicine. However, parents may downplay the risks of narcotic pain medicine because they are prescribed by a doctor," Clark said.