Driver Education: How Drugs Affect Driving – Illegal Prescription Drugs

In 2007, 4.4 million teens reported that they had abused a prescription drug at some point in their lives, according to the Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS). Abuse of prescription drugs by teens is on the rise, and parents need to be vigilant to keep their teens from using. Many teens who illegally use prescription drugs get them from their own homes, though they can also obtain them from friends and the internet.

Many teens use prescription drugs to get high, but they may also use them to relieve anxiety and stress, sleep better, improve concentration and increase alertness. Even teens who stay away from street drugs are vulnerable; a “good kid” might take amphetamines so she can study longer and keep her grades up. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, adolescents are more likely than young adults to become dependent on prescription medicines.

But the risks of using prescription medications are not well understood by many teens, according to PATS; about four in ten teens surveyed perceived prescription drugs used without a prescription to be safer than street drugs. The Office of National Drug Control Policy says that when teens abuse prescription drugs, they often characterize their use of the drugs as “responsible,” “controlled” or “safe.”

Illegal use of prescription drugs is far from safe, however, particularly if a teen takes prescription drugs and drives. The most commonly abused prescription drugs are painkillers, tranquilizers, sedatives, and stimulants. All of these drugs act on systems in the brain that control driving behavior and impact motor skills and thus can lead to impaired driving ability. Teens often abuse prescription drugs at “pharm parties;” each teen brings prescription drugs from home, the drugs are combined in a big bowl (called “trail mix”), and each teen consumes a handful; after the party, teens whose judgment is impaired often get rides home from other impaired teens.

In addition to the physical danger to their own children, parents whose teens use illegal prescription drugs and drive incur huge financial risk. Though the level of liability varies by state, parents can be held liable for the negligent acts of minor drivers. If a motor vehicle crash that results in injury or death occurs and a court finds that a parent should have known, or knew, that their teen was using illegal drugs or drinking alcohol while driving, the financial consequences of a lawsuit could be devastating.

Ensuring that teens don’t take advantage of prescription drugs in your household requires a high level of alertness. Consider storing prescription drugs in a small lockbox, keeping a count of prescription drugs, checking your teen’s room and recreational areas regularly for pill bottles, and checking the computer’s internet history to make sure teens aren’t shopping for drugs online.

Talking to teens about illegal prescription drug use is important too. Several studies indicate that teens are much less likely to use alcohol or any other drug when parents have consistently expressed their feelings on the issue.