When a teen is taking a painkiller for the first time it should be for a legitimate reason, such as an injury or medical need. Instead, instances of young people taking these dangerous opioids recreationally are on the rise. Researchers are warning physicians that they should minimize painkiller prescriptions for teens and monitor use carefully.
How Are Painkillers Being Misused?
Experts at the University of Michigan and the University of New England showed how many high school kids are misusing prescription-strength painkillers and, even worse, mixing them with other substances.
Their study used data collected through Monitoring the Future surveys which annually ask 50,000 U.S. middle and high school students to self-report on things like substance use. Their analysis of the data revealed some startling statistics which they hope will change prescribing practices:
- 22 percent of seniors in high school had already been prescribed an opioid painkiller at least once
- One of eight high school seniors had taken prescription painkillers without a prescription
- 23 percent of the 7,000 seniors surveyed between 2007 and 2009 were Caucasians who took opioids for medical reasons
- 16 percent of Caucasians took them for non-medical reasons
- Seven percent of the 7,000 were black students who took them for medical reasons
- Four percent of black students took them for non-medical reasons
- Among Hispanics, seven percent took opioids for medical reasons and six percent for non-medical reasons.
Who Is Abusing Painkillers?
The researchers suggest the racial differences may reflect the availability of medical services and varying prescribing practices. Prescription painkillers are costly, so economics may further influence who is most often abusing the drugs.
Teen Exposure To Prescription Drugs
The study further found that kids who misuse prescription painkillers often mix them with another substance. As many as 70 percent of those who abuse opioids take them along with another recreational substance, with 58.5 percent mixing with marijuana and 52.1 percent combining with alcohol.
Teens whose first exposure to opioids is recreational are four times more likely to get high, seven to nine times more likely to snort them and four times more likely to acquire the drugs from a relative, friend or a stranger.
The study team does not suggest that doctors forego prescribing these powerful drugs to teens altogether, but they do admonish caution, careful oversight and monitoring.
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