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Teens responsible for much prescription drug abuse

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
teens, adolescents, drug abuse, prescription analgesics, pain killers

According to a new study, the teen in your household might be a prescription drug abuser. Researchers affiliated with the University of Colorado Denver published these unfortunate findings online on October 16 in the Journal of Adolescent medicine.

A research team headed by Richard Miech, PhD, MPH note that, in the United States, the nonmedical use of prescription analgesics (pain killers) has increased substantially in recent years. They noted, that prior to their study, it was unknown whether today’s teens are disproportionately driving this increase or, instead, the trend is a general one that has simultaneously affected individuals of all ages. Therefore, they conducted a study evaluating the nonmedical use of analgesics among different age groups.

The authors note that the total number of hydrocodone and oxycodone products prescribed legally in the US increased more than fourfold from about 40 million in 1991 to nearly 180 million in 2007. They explained that this situation makes first-time nonmedical use of analgesics among contemporary teens easier than in the past because more homes have prescription analgesics in their medicine cabinets; furthermore, the majority of individuals who use analgesics non-medically get them from friends and relatives. The researchers assessed data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which is a series of annual, nationally representative, cross-sectional surveys of the US civilian, non-institutionalized population. They focused their analysis on the years 1985 through 2009; they employed a recently-developed “intrinsic estimator” algorithm to separate the data into different age groups.

The researchers found that substantial increases in the prevalence of nonmedical analgesic use have occurred across individuals of all ages in recent years; however, this increase is significantly augmented among today’s adolescents. The odds of past-year nonmedical analgesic use for today’s youngest cohort (born 1980–1994) are higher than would be expected on the basis of their age; furthermore, broad, historical period influences that have increased use across individuals of all ages. They noted that analgesic use is approximately 40% higher for today’s teen population than any of the teen populations that came before them. This finding was present among males, females, non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, and Hispanics.

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Across all time periods, the researchers found that males had a higher nonmedical analgesic use than females; furthermore, non-Hispanic whites have higher prevalence than non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics. For both males and females, respondents between the ages of 15 and 24 years had the highest prevalence of nonmedical analgesic use.

The authors concluded that the nonmedical use of analgesics occurs among all age groups; however, today’s teens warrant special attention for substance abuse policies and interventions targeted at reversing the increase in nonmedical use of prescription analgesics.

Take home message:
Teen drug abuse is also significant in other nations. For example, a study published last April in the journal Canadian Family Physician, reported that “nonmedical use of opioids is common among Ontario students.” This is a serious healthcare issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prescription drugs have replaced heroin and cocaine as the leading drugs involved in fatal drug overdoses in all urban-rural categories. The agency notes that fatal drug overdoses are no longer a predominantly urban phenomenon. National prevention efforts will have to shift to address nontraditional populations using nontraditional drugs

Journal of Adolescent Health
Canadian Family Physician

See also:Prescription narcotic abuse in the US rampant in some states
Closer scrutiny of prescription drugs recommended to protect public
Drug addicted newborns: a national disgrace