Youth prescription drug abuse at unprecedented levels, study finds

Young people today are abusing prescription painkillers at a rate 40 percent higher than previous generations, a recent study by the University of Colorado Denver revealed. Researchers found that abuse of prescription pain medications like Vicodin, Valium and OxyContin is now the second-most common form of illegal drug use in the United States, following marijuana.

The study's lead author, Richard Miech, Ph.D., characterize illegal prescription drug use as "the next big epidemic," according to Science Daily. The study drew on data obtained from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health between 1985 and 2009. Miech explaining that the behavior appears to occur disproportionately among today's teenagers and adolescents, whose misuse of prescription drugs is higher than any other generation on record.

Ease of access to prescription medications was cited as one of the primary factors the researchers believe to be responsible for the trend among today's young people. Miech says that the results of the study suggest that existing policies are not yet effective enough to control the problem.

However, in recent months and years, the illegal use of prescription drugs has become a major topic among legislators and law enforcement officials in Colorado across the United States. State and federal governments have initiated numerous "crackdowns" designed to target those who use prescription drugs illegally, and headlines from every corner of the country report growing numbers of arrests.

Prescription drug crimes in Colorado

According to federal data, Colorado is among the 10 states in the nation with the highest rates of illegal drug use. Additionally, Colorado residents reported higher-than-average use of illegal drugs other than marijuana.

In Colorado, possession of certain prescription drugs without a prescription can be charged as a Class 4 felony - with conviction carrying potential penalties of 2 to 6 years in prison as well as thousands of dollars in fines. Other factors, such as repeat offenses, possession of large quantities of prescription drugs, or engaging in the illegal sale or distribution of prescription medications can increase the penalties substantially.

Colorado's Drug Courts

Prescription drug abuse often involves addiction issues that can be traced back to the lawful, medical use of a prescribed drug that eventually spiraled out of control. In certain cases, people facing prescription drug charges in Colorado may be able to avoid steep criminal penalties by having their cases transferred to the Drug Court system instead of being tried in criminal court. Colorado Drug Court participants must participate in a three-phase structured drug treatment and rehabilitation program for a period of at least nine months. The program combines elements of treatment, community service, and drug and alcohol monitoring, as well as regular court appearances and meetings with a drug court probation officer.

People facing prescription drug charges in Colorado should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help them weigh their legal options and advocate on their behalf for a fair resolution to the case.

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