In any given year, a small but significant number of American teenagers misuse a prescription opioid medication. In turn, some of these medication-misusing teens will ultimately develop diagnosable symptoms of opioid use disorder, a condition that includes both non-addicted opioid abuse and opioid addiction.
In a study published in November 2014 in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse, researchers from the City University of New York used data from a federal project called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health to help determine which teenagers have the highest chances of developing prescription opioid-related opioid use disorder.
Teenagers And Prescription Opioid Misuse
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) is sponsored every year by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which forms part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It collects nationwide information on substance misuse trends for all Americans over the age of 11. The survey includes 12-year-olds and teenagers age 17 and younger in single demographic group. (Eighteen- and 19-year-olds are grouped with young adults in their early to mid-20s.)
According to figures from the 2013 version of the NSDUH, roughly 0.9 percent of all 12- and 13-year-olds misuse an opioid medication in the typical month. Fourteen- and 15-year-olds misuse these medications at a higher monthly rate of 1.8 percent. Sixteen- and 17-year-old teenagers misuse opioid medications at a monthly rate of roughly 2.3 percent. Compared to the rates recorded for 2012, the rates for monthly prescription opioid misuse fell among both 12- and 13-year-olds and 16- and 17-year olds. U.S. teenagers misuse opioid medications more often than any other prescription substances. Marijuana is the only illicit/illegal drug or medication consumed more often than prescription opioids by Americans between the ages of 12 and 17.
Opioid Use Disorder
Opioid use disorder is a subtype of a more comprehensive condition known as substance use disorder. People with substance use disorder have at least two out of 11 possible symptoms of diagnosable substance abuse, diagnosable substance addiction or a combination of overlapping symptoms attributable to both substance abuse and substance addiction. This disorder, officially defined by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013, replaces separate diagnoses for substance abuse and substance addiction; the rationale behind this replacement is the highly interconnected nature of abuse- and addiction-related issues in any given individual. A person affected by opioid use disorder has symptoms of diagnosable abuse and/or addiction stemming from the consumption of an opioid medication or an opioid drug like heroin.
Which Teens Have The Highest Risks?
In the study published in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse, the City University of New York researchers used data collected from the 2007 version of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health to identify those teenagers with the highest chances of receiving a diagnosis of opioid addiction stemming from the misuse of an opioid medication. (The study was begun before the American Psychiatric Association made the shift from separately defined substance abuse and addiction to substance use disorder.) In that year, a total of 17,727 teenagers (chosen to reflect the demographic makeup of the larger teen population) were interviewed through the NSDUH.
After analyzing the NSDUH results, the researchers concluded that, among teenage boys, the highest risks for developing a prescription opioid addiction appear in those individuals who maintain a D or F grade average. Among teenage girls, the highest risks appear in those individuals who regularly argue with their parents (at least 11 times throughout the year). Together, these boys and girls have a roughly 200 percent greater chance of developing a prescription opioid addiction than other adolescents.
The researchers also examined the risks for developing a prescription opioid addiction in the context of racial/ethnic background. They concluded that, compared to teenagers of European American descent, teenagers of Hispanic descent have a roughly 100 percent higher chance of developing such an addiction than they do of developing an addiction to marijuana or alcohol.
The study’s authors believe that public health officials can use their findings to improve the quality of interventions designed to halt damaging patterns of opioid medication misuse among American teenagers. They also believe that their findings will aid the efforts of future researchers who want to learn even more about the underlying risks for teen opioid abuse and addiction.
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