HealthDay News — Adolescent prescription pain medication misuse peaks around age 16 years, meaning that most teens who take pain relievers to get high do it before their senior year of high school, research suggests.
Approximately 3% of teens who participated in a national survey became new users at the age of 16 years, the highest proportion of any age group included in the study, James Anthony, PhD, of Michigan State University in East Lansing, and colleagues reported online in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
“[Prevention initiatives that] focus on the last year of high school and the post–secondary school years may be too little too late,” the researchers wrote. “Practice-based approaches are needed in addition to public health interventions based on effective alcohol and tobacco prevention programs during the earlier adolescent years.”
To determine when youth are most likely to start using prescription painkillers nonmedically, Anthony and colleagues analyzed from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) 2004-2008, which included 138,729 teens and adolescents aged 12 to 21 years.
An estimated 1 in 60 kids starts misusing prescription painkillers between ages 12 and 21, the researchers found, but incident estimates are highest at 1 in 30 to 40 at age 16, the researchers found.
Risk appears to be lowest from ages 12 to 14, when only 0.5% of participants reported experimenting with prescription pain killers, and again from ages 19 to 21, when 1.1% reported trying prescription painkillers for the first time.
In a separate study published in the same issue of the journal, Sean Esteban McCabe, PhD, from the University of Michigan, and colleagues found nearly 1 in every 4 high school seniors has used a prescription opioid for either medical or nonmedical reasons.
Among the nationally representative sample of 7,374 U.S. high school seniors who completed a questionnaire to determine opioid prevalence, 17.6% reported lifetime medical use of prescription opioids and 12.9% reported taking opioids for nonmedical uses.
Furthermore, 80% of nonmedical users, who had a previous history of medical opioid use, reported using an earlier prescription to obtain more opioids later. Clinicians who prescribe opioids should take this finding “very seriously,” according to the researchers.
“This study indicates that the quantity of prescription opioids and number of refills prescribed to adolescents should be carefully considered and closely monitored to reduce subsequent nonmedical use of leftover medication,” McCabe and colleagues wrote.