Teens Who Take Prescribed Painkillers At Risk For Later Opioid Abuse

By John Lavitt 01/07/16

The NIDA-backed research study findings raise concerns about the legitimate medicinal use of prescribed opioid pain medications. 

Teenage Opioid User
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Based on data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey shows that teens who received a prescription for opioid pain medication by the 12th grade in high school were at 33% increased risk of misusing an opioid between ages 19 and 25. Conducted annually by the University of Michigan, the MTF surveys adolescent drug use and attitudes across the country. The data of the MTF provides the raw material for research studies across the nation.

In the NIDA report on the new study, the surprising nature of the increased risk was emphasized. Not only is there an increased risk, but the risk is greatest in the segments of the teen population most unlikely to use drugs. The authors wrote

“Strikingly, the risk was found to be most concentrated among teens who would be expected to be at low risk of drug misuse: those with no illicit drug experience and those who reported that they disapproved of regular marijuana use. Among those with low predicted risk of future opioid use in 12th grade, having an opioid prescription increased their risk of post-high-school opioid misuse three-fold.”

Such a finding raises concerns over the legitimate medicinal use of prescribed opioid pain medications. In the past, legitimate opioid prescriptions in teen years were believed to be a potential pathway to opioid use disorders among adults. The new study reveals this belief to be true, showing how even rightly prescribed opioid prescriptions can open the door to later misuse and abuse.

Resonant, these conclusions raise questions about the risks versus benefits of these drugs in pain management. The authors of the study note that for such low-risk teens, an opioid prescription is likely to be their first exposure to an addictive substance. The resulting pleasurable effects coupled with a sense that it is safely prescribed may encourage subsequent misuse.

In contrast, an initial opioid experience may make less of an impression on teens with more drug experience. The goal of the study results is to help inform opioid prescribing patterns. Providers working with younger populations need to be aware of these risks and tailor their prescribing patterns to lower the danger.

As the authors of the study clearly express in their conclusions, “Clinic-based education and prevention efforts have substantial potential to reduce future opioid misuse among these individuals, who begin opioid use with strong attitudes against illegal drug use.”

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles with his beautiful wife, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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