Medicine Abuse – An Epidemic Among Teens

CVS Health is supporting the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids' Medication Abuse Project.

Prescription drug abuse is a growing problem in the United States, particularly among teens. That’s why CVS Health has partnered with the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids to support its national action campaign, the Medicine Abuse Project. The Project aims to prevent half a million teens from abusing medicine within five years. Partnership for Drug-Free Kids President and CEO, Steve Pasierb, weighs in on the epidemic and what his organization is doing to try to stop it.  

How serious a problem is prescription drug abuse?

It’s estimated that over 60 Americans die each day due to a prescription overdose. We know that drug overdoses now exceed car crashes as the number one cause of accidental death in the United States, and one driver of the trend is the abuse of prescription painkillers. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has deemed overdoses involving prescription drugs an epidemic.

That’s why we created the Medicine Abuse Project, bringing together several dozen national health associations and major nonprofits, federal agencies and industry.  Together, our unified efforts reach millions of people every day with critical information about the risks of and what to do about medication misuse and abuse.  We are united with a goal to prevent half a million teens from abusing medicine.

Teens’ reasons for misusing or abusing these medications go beyond just getting high or seeking to have fun. Many are abusing prescription drugs to help manage their life or to escape, or in an attempt to deal with pressures and stress. Some abuse painkillers on the weekend to get high, but others are abusing stimulants to stay awake or study longer, while some experiment with medicines intended for anxiety disorders or seek out anti-depressants. It’s a complex range of motivations and behaviors that are incredibly dangerous.  

Working together to combat prescription drug abuse 

What is your organization doing to help teens avoid this?

Research shows that teens feel overwhelmed by many stresses they deal with on a daily basis. They and their friends sometimes succumb to less-healthy ways of coping, including numbing their feelings with drugs and alcohol. However, they recognize that they need help learning to identify the stresses in their lives and how to manage them in healthy ways.

Our new Above the Influence (ATI) Toolkit helps with just that, and has activities that can be used with youth, ages 12-17, across a variety of community settings. The activities are meant to boost confidence and prevent risk-taking behaviors, including prescription drug abuse.

What does ATI set out to do?

The Above the Influence Toolkit is part of our existing program, Above the Influence, a proven-effective campaign that reaches young people, inspiring them to make healthy decisions and avoid negative influences, like drugs and alcohol.

This turn-key toolkit includes a flexible Facilitator Guide with skill-building exercises that help identify, handle and help friends through stressful situations that teens face. Teen Activity Sheets are also included, and adults can easily integrate some or all of the new activities in existing school, community group and faith-based programs. Facilitation tips are provided within the guide, and sessions can be customized according to the interests and needs of individual communities.

What do you hope it will accomplish?

The ATI Toolkit aims to help teens manage and deal with stress by identifying the pressures around them. It also equips them with skills to avoid negative influences and make healthier choices for themselves through role playing and real-life discussions. We want to help teens connect and support each other by offering tips and activities to practice effective communication and listening skills. Ultimately, we’d like to see this resource utilized across the country to help inspire confidence and better decision-making skills in teens everywhere.

A Conversation with Papatya Tankut about Prescription Drug Abuse 

How will you measure the Toolkit’s success?

The ATI Toolkit includes evaluation surveys that will help us gauge its effectiveness wherever it’s used. With this feedback, it will be evaluated so that further refinements can be made and an even more impactful program can be delivered to teens. The toolkit can be downloaded, and we are encouraging teens and adults to share how they are using it to drive further use and build excitement around the program.

Steve Pasierb is President and CEO of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, leading the nonprofit’s work to prevent teen substance abuse and support families impacted by addiction. To learn more and get involved, go to