You’ve talked to your kids about drugs and alcohol, right? Cocaine, marijuana, maybe heroin, mushrooms, and crack. But what about prescrtion drug abuse? What about all that stuff in your medicine cabinet? About 80 percent of teenagers say that they’ve talked with their parents about alcohol and marijuana use, and about one in three said they’d they’d discussed cocaine and crack. But only 14-16 percent say that prescription drug abuse (including painkillers) ever came up.

It’s no big surprise, then, that nearly 25 percent of American teenagers—that’s more than 5 million kids—say they’ve abused prescription medications. That’s up 33 percent in just the past five years. Here are some of the sobering statistics from a poll of 3,900 9th-12th graders and 800 parents conducted by The Partnership at and the MetLife Foundation:

  • 20 percent of teens who admit they have abused prescription drugs said their first experience doing so was before the age of 14,
    13 percent of teens admit that they’d tried–at least once–either Ritalin or Adderall (the most common ADHD drugs). And parents are apparently just as ignorant: nearly 33 percent believe that Ritalin or Adderall can boost a child’s school performance even if the child is not diagnosed with ADHD.
  • 27 percent of teens believe that prescription drug abuse is safer than “street drugs,” such as cocaine or ecstasy. A third say there’s nothing wrong with using prescription medications that were never prescribed for them to tackle a specific injury or illness, and nearly one in four believes that their parents are more concerned about street drug use than the misuse of prescription drugs. And they’re partly right. 20 percent of parents actually admit that they’ve willfully given their teen a prescription med that they had on hand, for which their child had no prescription. And 16 percent say they think prescription drugs are less dangerous than street drugs. “The key here is that kids and often their parents are buying into the myth and misunderstanding that prescription drug abuse is a safer way to get high, a safer alternative to street drugs, and that they can control it,” said Steve Pasierb, president and CEO at the Partnership organization. “Kids say that they don’t think that their parents are going to be upset if they know about this, and parents are essentially saying the same thing,” he added.
  • To make matter worse, The Partnership/MetLife survey also found that a parent’s medicine cabinet is where teens find 56 percent of the prescription drugs they abuse. And nearly half of parents have no barriers to keep their teens from accessing and abusing prescription drugs at home.

The report is called the “2012 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study. You can read key findings from the report here. And the entire report here.