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'Generation Rx' Label Dazzles Media

What did the Partnership for a Drug Free America study really say about teens and prescription drug use?
 
 
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The Partnership for a Drug Free America released its latest survey on teen drug use last week, prompting the usual almost-verbatim press-release reporting and expressions of being "shocked, shocked" about "kids today" from the media.

Almost all of the coverage picked up the Partnership's label "Generation Rx," so named because nearly one in five of this group of adolescents reported having used the opioid Vicodin without a prescription. In the third paragraph of its story, the AP included a quote from the Partnership's chairman which said, "For the first time, our national study finds that today's teens are more likely to have abused a prescription painkiller to get high than they are to have experimented with a variety of illegal drugs."

But this is only the second time prescription drug use has been included in the survey -- and it was at the same level when they measured it for the first time, last year. The AP story (which was picked up by CNN, among many others) buried this information in its last two paragraphs, along with the fact that far more kids used marijuana than prescription drugs.

So, it's not only not the first time that prescription drug use has been this high, it's also not true that kids use more prescription drugs than marijuana. Where's the news, and where's the truth in the quote? If this is only the second year that prescription drug use has been measured, the fact that the level is higher than for cocaine and ecstasy doesn't provide much information about whether this is a new or ongoing phenomenon.

That's the news here -- but reporters seem to be dazed to see it.

Maia Szalavitz is a senior fellow at the media watchdog group STATS.