Most studies on opioid addiction in the United States have focused on adults, leaving researchers with only a limited understanding of the medical and nonmedical trends in opioid abuse in teenagers.
To better understand the problem of opioid use among teens, researchers looked at trends in the use of prescription opioids among U.S. adolescents from 1976 to 2015, Live Science
Researchers used data from the Monitoring the Future
study of adolescents. The study began in 1975 as a way to understand and follow trends on substance abuse among American adolescents, college-age students, and adult high school graduates.
The Monitoring the Future (MTF) studies are done using questionnaires and incorporate thousands of secondary school-age teenagers. As an example, the 2016 study
that was published in January this year used 45,500 students in 372 secondary schools.
According to the study authors, forty cohorts of nationally representative samples of high school seniors (modal age 18) were used to examine self-reported medical and nonmedical use of prescription opioids.
"One consistent finding we observed over the past two decades is that the majority of nonmedical users of prescription opioids also have a history of medical use of prescription opioids," said study author Sean McCabe, a research professor at the University of Michigan.
And the interesting conclusion to the problem of opioid abuse in adolescents is quite simple, say the authors - "This means health professionals who prescribe opioid medications to adolescents can play an important role in reducing prescription opioid misuse," McCabe says.
The researchers used MTF data from 2015, which was the latest report available to them at the time. In that 2015 report, 8.0 percent of teenagers reported abusing prescription opioids, with the majority of them reporting they had been prescribed opioids previously.
In the 2016 MTF report, one particularly interesting bit of information is based on the specifics of drugs being used. "The supposed benefits of using a drug usually spread much faster than information about the adverse consequences. Supposed benefits take only rumor and a few testimonials, the spread of which have been hastened and expanded greatly by the media and in particular the Internet.," says the report.
If we take the conclusions found in the new study and incorporate the conclusions found in the MTF study, it makes it perfectly clear that for us to fight opioid abuse in adolescents and adults, for that matter, we need to ensure the medical community stops prescribing so many opioids to people for pain relief.
Secondly, we need to make better use of the media in letting people know the consequences of opioid abuse and the risks involved not only to a person's health but to the abuser's family, community, economic security, and society.
The study, "Trends in Medical and Nonmedical Use of Prescription Opioids Among US Adolescents: 1976–2015,"
was published in the journal Pediatrics March issue.