Report Finds Wide Misuse of Prescription Painkillers by Teens

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According to two recently published studies, prescription painkiller misuse by teenagers is on the rise, with as many as 13 percent of the surveyed teens reporting having used the drugs for non-medical reasons.

The studies, published last month in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine focused on the non-medicinal use of prescription painkillers, primarily opiods such as oxycontin and codeine, by teenagers.

One study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan analyzed general survey results from more than 7,000 high school seniors, encompassing data from more than 130 public and private schools between 2007 to 2009. According to researchers’ findings, about 13 percent of survey takers self-reported having used prescription painkillers without a doctor’s approval; of those that self-reported non-medical use of such drugs, a majority stated they had been legally prescribed painkillers by doctors for previous medical conditions.

Additionally, the researchers found that teenagers who had misused painkillers were much likelier to use other drugs, such as marijuana, or binge drink compared to students that had either taken opiods with a doctor’s approval or had never taken such drugs for any reason. Researchers said that, on average, teenagers began misusing prescription painkillers at either 16 or 17 – much earlier than previous research has indicated, according to the study.

An additional study, conducted by researchers at Michigan State University, indicates that prescription painkiller misuse by younger teenagers is increasing, with an estimated one out of 30 teens that had reported using prescription painkillers for non-medical reasons doing so by the time they had turned 16.

Dr. Robert Fortuna of the University of Rochester Medical Center told Reuters Health that since more doctors are prescribing opiods to teenagers as treatment for back and knee pains, there’s a greater possibility that some teenagers may misuse them.

“The non-medical use of controlled medications in [teens] has surpassed almost all illicit drugs except for marijuana,” he said. “It’s just an alarming trend.”

The Centers for Disease Control reported that almost 15,000 Americans died from opiod overdoes in 2008 alone – a rate almost three times higher than it was in 1988 .

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