Teens More Likely To Misuse Pain Medications
May 8, 2012

Teens More Likely To Misuse Pain Medications

As teenagers continue to experiment with different ways to get drunk or high, their methods can become increasingly more dangerous, posing significant future health threats.

Now, a recent survey of American teens suggests those around 16 years old are more likely to abuse prescription pain relievers to get high. These findings have been published online in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Clinicians, doctors, physicians and public health officials have noted the trend, as previous research has suggested an surge in “extra-medical” use has led to an increase of overdose deaths.

Elizabeth A. Meier, Ph.D. conducted this study with colleagues from Michigan State University. Together, they examined data from the 2004 through 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health to discover at what age teens are more likely to start using prescription medication and pain killers for recreational use.

According to their work, estimates are based on nearly 120,000 participants, ranging from 12 to 21 years old.

“While much of the previous thinking was that misuse of these drugs emerged in the final year of high school and during the college-age years, we found that for adolescents the peak risk of starting to misuse these painkillers generally occurs earlier, not during the postsecondary school years," said James C. Anthony with MSU´s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

"We suspect many physicians, other prescribing clinicians and public health professionals, will share our surprise in this finding."

Their survey´s found at age 16, 1 in 30 to 40 youths begin using pain killers recreationally to get high.

"Getting a firm grasp of when the first onset occurs is very important when we try to take public health action to prevent first occurrence," said Anthony in a press release.

“With the peak risk at age 16 years and a notable acceleration in risk between ages 13 and 14 years, any strict focus on college students or 12th graders might be an example of too little too late."

As such, the team is now suggesting prevention programs may be needed to keep these teens from abusing these drugs early on. Additionally, the team is also calling for stricter guidelines for doctors and clinicians when prescribing these medications to youths.

According to the MSU press release, there is also an opportunity for the team to work with pharmaceutical specialists who can reformulate the drugs to produce less of a high when they are misused, saving the teens from any long-term future health risks.

Anthony also suggests public health officials begin to look at alternative pain-reliever options, such as Ibuprofen, to be given to teenagers to keep them from misusing the drugs.

Otherwise, the more dangerous opioid pain killers should be kept “under lock and key,” according to the release.

"Patients in transient pain are often given a larger opioid prescription than is needed. It can end up stacked in the medicine cabinet, available to anyone in or visiting the household," said Anthony.

Reports of teens misusing common health items have been making news lately. One such report last month revealed at least 6 cases where California teens drank common hand sanitizer to get a quick buzz.