Are Teens Prescribed Painkillers More Likely To Abuse Them?

By May Wilkerson 10/28/15

Prescribed drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin may put teens at risk of addiction.

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Prescription drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin may put teens at risk of addiction, even when prescribed by a doctor.

High school students who are prescribed opioid painkillers are 33% more likely to abuse these drugs by age 23, according to a new study from University of Michigan. The findings are especially worrying given that the FDA recently approved use of Oxycontin, a potent painkiller, among children ages 11 to 16, said researchers.

Somewhat surprisingly, the study found that the teens at the most risk for prescription drug abuse were those with the little or no history of illegal drug use, and who expressed strong disapproval of drug abuse. Prescription painkillers may be their first exposure to an addictive substance, said researchers, which could explain their higher likelihood of abuse.

"Most likely, the initial experience of pain relief is pleasurable and this safe experience may reduce perceived danger," said study lead author Richard Miech, research professor at the U-M Institute for Social Research. "A pleasurable and safe initial experience with a drug is a central factor in theories of who goes on to misuse drugs."

On the other hand, among teens who had more experience with drug use, use of a prescribed painkiller was less likely to impact their behavior later on. "Although these experienced individuals may go on to misuse prescription pain relievers, such misuse does not appear to result from an introduction to pain relievers through a legitimate prescription," said Miech.

For parents or teens concerned about the potential for drug abuse or dependency, there are non-opioid alternative pain relievers available for minor painful conditions. Researchers said doctors may be recommended to try these out first before prescribing opioid medications.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.