Teens & Pills

Prescription painkiller abuse is becoming more common at younger ages than previously thought

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

(RxWiki News) Teens are starting to abuse painkillers earlier in life than previously thought. Preventative methods introduced to seniors in high school are probably too late, and recent reports indicate that education should start earlier.

Pre-high school anti-drug abuse campaigns for painkillers would be more effective than current late-high school tactics.

A recent study concludes that prescription pain reliever abuse is starting at a very young age. Education on the subject should begin sooner for it to affect students before they begin use.

"Talk to your kids about the dangers of abusing painkillers."

Elizabeth A. Meier PhD., led a team at Michigan State University to take a look at what’s happening with the abuse of pain killers by the adolescent population in recent years.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health provided data from 2004-2008 for 119,877 people between the ages of 12-21. 138,729 people were originally chosen, but 18,852, 13.6 percent, were removed from the study pool based on the fact that they had already used painkillers inappropriately before the study began.

Meier and her colleagues discovered that the average age of peak risk for beginning extramedical use of painkillers was 16 years old.

The risk that a 16 year old will start experimenting with illegal uses for prescription painkillers was nearly twice as likely, 1 in 30 to 40 children. Whereas only 1 in 60 kids ages 12-15 and 17-21 did the same. From ages 17-21 the rates of beginning extramedical use declined steadily every year from 2.5 percent down to 1.1 percent.

Researchers suggest that current anti-drug campaigns are targeting youth too late in the game: “We suspect that many physicians, other prescribing clinicians, and public health professionals will share our surprise that for youth in the United States, the peak risk of starting extramedical use of prescription pain relievers generally occurs before the final year of high school, not during the post-secondary school years.”

In 2009,15 percent of 9th graders had reported taking painkillers without a prescription.This is a young age and a large percentage for experimenting with these kinds of drugs.  

The most commonly abused drugs in recent years are: Vicodin, OxyContin, Dilaudid, and Percocet. The study also reports, “an estimated 20 to 40 percent of high school students say that narcotics other than heroin are fairly easy or very easy to get.”  

This study was published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, May 2012. Funding was supported by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Michigan State University.

Financial disclosure from the study states: “Dr Anthony has received payments in the form of honoraria, scientific advisory board compensation, and consultation fees for his service as a non- employee consultant of the US Food and Drug Administration and of CRS Associates, Inc, on topics pertinent to postmarketing surveillance of prescription opioids, including products by Reckitt-Benckhiser and Purdue Pharma.”

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 9, 2012
Last Updated:
May 10, 2012