Survey: Teens who abuse prescription drugs don't buy them on the InternetThe National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), last week issued a fascinating survey of teens. Two results stood out to me:

1. Teens (aged 12 to 17) indicated, for the first time, that it is easier to acquire “prescription drugs such as OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin or Ritalin, without a prescription” than it is to buy beer.

2. While Internet pharmacies have been widely blamed for the increase in prescription drug abuse, few of the teens surveyed say that the drug abusers acquire their drugs from online pharmacies.

That’s right. Here’s what CASA’s press release says:

When teens who know prescription drug abusers were asked where those kids get their drugs:

  • 31 percent said from friends or classmates;
  • 34 percent said from home, parents or the medicine cabinet;
  • 16 percent said other;
  • Nine percent said from a drug dealer

You may recall that just last month, CASA issued a study warning that 85 percent of online pharmacies do not require a prescription. Clearly, the organization is strongly opposed (as we are) to rogue online pharmacies.

But I think it’s telling here that — even with all the negative media attention that online pharmacies are receiving — these kids didn’t say, “We buy our OxyContin online.” They said they’re sneaking pills from their parents’ medicine cabinets — or their friends’ parents’ medicine cabinets.

This says to me that we need to look beyond the easy scapegoat of online and mail-order pharmacies in getting to the root of the problem of teen prescription drug abuse.

Could it be that the billions of dollars drug companies have spent to advertise, promote and sell their drugs have resulted in a flood of pills on the market?

Could it be that we’re taught by wall-to-wall direct-to-consumer advertising today that there’s “a pill for every ill”?

In this environment, isn’t it reasonable for teens to seek out the much-hyped prescription drugs they keep hearing about?

Let me give you one example. Viagra is a very popular drug among young men, including even teens, who are not impotent but believe that Viagra will improve their sexual performance. Do you think — for even a minute — that Viagra abuse would be as severe if Pfizer had not spent millions of dollars shouting “Viva Viagra” from every rooftop in America?

If you do, you’re kidding yourself. And if you think the problem of teen prescription drug abuse will be solved by focusing on Internet pharmacies rather than the larger issues at work, you’re also kidding yourself.