Rx Abuse Starts Young

Prescription opioids are being used by younger teens

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Teen drug abuse of prescription opioids is a problem. Parental monitoring, proper disposal after they’re no longer needed for medical purposes and honest education could help reduce the abuse.

Researchers gathered data that suggests nonmedical use of prescription drugs among high school seniors needs intervention. The possibility of more serious drug abuse is also prevalent.

"Properly store and dispose of prescription opioids to prevent abuse."

Sean Esteban McCabe PhD., research professor at the University of Michigan Substance Abuse Research Center, led a team to evaluate the prevalence of prescription drug abuse in high school seniors.

This focused study surveyed a total of 7,374 high school seniors from three different years, 2007, 2008, and 2009. This is different from previous studies that looked at a wider range of age and included kids not in school.

Results showed that 17.6 percent of high school seniors had legally used opioids under medical supervision. 12.9 percent of the group illegally abused opioids for nonmedical purposes. Researchers estimate 22.3 percent of high school seniors have been exposed to prescription opioids either medically or non-medically.

Thirty-seven percent of the nonmedical group admitted to snorting the prescription pills up their nose.

In an editorial commenting on McCabe’s research, Caleb J. Banta-Green PhD., from the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington, believes the real problem is the possibility of prescription opioids being a gateway drug to heroin.

Banta-Green states, “A transition from pharmaceutical opioids to heroin was documented in 2009 when we found that 39 percent of heroin users in the Seattle, Washington, area reported that they were 'hooked on prescription type opiates' before they began using heroin.”

Banta-Green makes a point, but not all kids exposed to prescription opioids are going to go out and score heroin. Although, raising this point does give ground to good prescription practices for parents and health professionals.

Strict monitoring of prescriptions: dosages, length of time on the drug and proper disposal of unused portions are good places to start safeguarding against abuse.

This study was published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, May 2012. Funding for the study was provided by grants from the National Institutes on Drug Abuse and Health. No conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 9, 2012
Last Updated:
May 11, 2012