Teens and Opioid Abuse 

By: Jody Lutz

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Date: 12/18/2018


Historically, research has shown that nearly 1 in 4 high school seniors in the United States have been exposed to prescription opioids through either medical or non-medical use. On November 12, 2018 a JAMA abstract reported: Between 1997 and 2012, the rate of hospitalization due to opioid poisonings nearly doubled in US children and adolescents. Opioid use early in life is associated with a higher likelihood of opioid misuse in the future.

But has the trend started to change? Are we starting to see the beginning of a change in teenage opioid addiction rates? First, after increasing for several years, pediatric opioid prescriptions have been decreasing since 2012 in the United States, according to a research letter published in JAMA Pediatrics.

Opioid Abuse Reaching High School Students

Additionally, recent data shows that opioid abuse among high school students is actually decling. On December 17, 2018 the director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) presented the 2018 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey of a nationally representative sample of eighth, 10th and 12th graders in schools nationwide, funded by a government grant to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor paints a more promising picture. The annual results, show a decline in narcotic abuse among high school students. The report states in part:

The past years use of narcotics, other than heroin (i.e., prescription opioids), is at 3.4 percent among 12th graders—a significant change from 4.2 percent in 2017. Only 1.7 percent of high school seniors report misuse of Vicodin in the past year, compared to a peak of 10.5 percent 15 years ago. It is also important to note that heroin use in all three grades remains very low with only 0.4 percent of 12th graders reporting past year use.

Opioid Prevention for the Transition

“With illicit opioid use at generally the lowest in the history of the survey, it is possible that being in high school offers a protective effect against opioid misuse and addiction,” said Dr. Volkow. “We will be focusing much of our new prevention research on the period of time when teens transition out of school into the adult world and become exposed to the dangerous use of these drugs.” 

The warnings of teenage opioid use and the damage it can cause to young developing brains is a target for the Drugfree.Org website resource center which warns: The risk of addiction is particularly concerning when the patient is a teen or young adult because their brains are still developing and therefore biologically predisposed to experimentation. So if your teen or young adult is prescribed opioid pain relievers, you or your child’s caregiver should control the medication, dispense it only as prescribed and monitor their children closely for signs of misuse or growing dependence.

Treating Children with Addiction and Abuse 

So all things considered how do we help children in pain and work to prevent addiction and abuse? The World Health Organization has specific guidelines for treating children in pain:

WHO Guidelines on the Pharmacological Treatment of Persisting Pain in Children with Medical Illnesses

Correct use of analgesic medicines will relieve pain in most children with persisting pain due to medical illness and relies on the following key concepts:

  • Using a two-step strategy.
  • Dosing at regular intervals.
  • Using the appropriate route of administration.
  • Adapting treatment to the individual child.

There are a wealth of educational resources available to both educators and parents. A few examples include:

Health and Human Services (HHS) Adolescences and Opioids

SAMSHA Substance Use Resources for Adolescence and Young Adults

Heroin, Fentanyl & Other Opioids: A Comprehensive Resource for families with a Teen or Young Adult Struggling with Opioid Use

Operation Prevention: Parent Toolkit

Prevention First: Opioid Education Toolkit

Partnership for Drug Free Kids

And as always stay connected to the most up to date news by subscribing to the Affirm Health blog as we follow the topic of teenage opioid abuse and adolescent addiction trends. 






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