01 November 2013

1 in 10 teens misuses prescription painkillers

A survey shows that many young adults are misusing prescription medication.


About one in 10 American teens and young adults says they have misused a prescription painkiller or sedative, a new study finds.

Researchers conducted a confidential survey of more than 2 100 people aged 14 to 20 who visited University of Michigan Health System emergency departments for any reason in 2010 and 2011.

The results showed that 10.4 percent of the participants admitted to misusing a prescription painkiller or sedative at least once in the last year. This included taking drugs to get high, taking more than the recommended amount of a drug that was prescribed to them and taking drugs prescribed to someone else.

Most of the drug misuse was illegal. The vast majority of patients who admitted misuse had no prescriptions for these drugs on their medical records, according to the authors of the study published online in the journal Pediatrics.

Catching the problem

The findings raise the possibility that emergency room visits, for any reason, could be a good opportunity to detect and treat prescription drug problems among young people, Dr. Lauren Whiteside, who led the study during her U-M Injury Center postdoctoral research, said in a university news release. She is now at the University of Washington.

Whiteside also noted that it's important for emergency physicians to be aware that some patients who come to the ER could be seeking drugs for misuse or to give to other people.

The study also identified several risk factors associated with misuse of prescription painkillers and sedatives.

For example, patients who misused painkillers were more likely to receive an intravenous opioid painkiller during their ER visit. And patients who misused prescription drugs were significantly more likely to have also abused alcohol and non-prescription drugs such as cough medicine or to have used marijuana in the past year. They were also more likely to have been in a vehicle with a drunken driver.

Prescription drug abuse has reached epidemic levels in the United States. In many states, prescription drug overdoses kill more people than traffic collisions do, according to the news release.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about prescription drug abuse.

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