Abuse of Opioid Prescriptions Climbs to Alarming Rates for Teens, Young Adults

Posted on April 17th, 2011

The depth and scope of U.S. opioid usage is higher than even many experts previously believed, according to results from two studies. The class of analgesic drugs is now the most often prescribed in the U.S.

Even more alarming is research showing that hundreds of thousands of prescriptions for opioids are being written for teens and 20-somethings, age groups experts fear are more prone to abuse, addiction and fatal overdose.

The dramatic increase in opoid prescriptions – especially for oxycodone and hydrocodone – is capturing national attention, as addressed in a ScienceDaily report. While prescriptions for other types of pain medications, like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, have declined, prescriptions for opioid drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin have risen sharply during the past few years. These drugs now represent nearly 85 percent of total opioid-based pain prescriptions.

Of special concern is the rising level of young adults who are getting prescriptions for opioids. In 2009, more than 202 million prescriptions were written in the U.S. – and nearly 12 percent of these were for adolescents or younger adults, typically coming after a dentist appointment or procedure. 

Dramatic rises in admittance to treatment programs for prescription painkiller addiction are also highlighting the national problem, with admissions reaching a five-times higher rate now than ten years ago. The research, completed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, points to the need for better public information and better physician and patient knowledge regarding the risks and dangers of opioid painkillers.

Fatalities linked to opioid overdose are the second leading factor in unintentional deaths in America, and the overall usage rate of the drugs ranks second, just behind the use of marijuana. Solving the opioid epidemic will take combined efforts across physicians, pharmacies and communities, including initiatives to help train physicians to mange opioid prescriptions and training patients to use them responsibly. 

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