Half of Adolescents Taking Opioids Misuse Them

An alarming new study determined that one in two adolescent patients are misusing their prescription opioids – and that's actually an improvement from previous years.

An alarming new study determined that one in two adolescent patients are misusing their prescription opioids — and that’s actually an improvement from previous years.

Drug misuse is defined as lab-based evidence that a patient is using or combining non-prescribed drugs or skipping doses that do not align with the physician’s instructions. Quest Diagnostics, a diagnostic information services company, created the Prescription Drug Monitoring Report 2015 based on trends from 2.5 million test results compiled from patients in 48 states and the District of Columbia in 2014. The analysis included patients under the age of 10 all the way up to adults past age 65, as well as males and females.

One startling figure revealed that 52% of patients ages 10 to 17 were found to misuse their prescription drugs. While this is a troublesome statistic, this group actually saw the greatest improvement out of all of the ages since the figure was up to 70% in 2011. Although a positive change, the data still indicates that half of adolescents on prescription opioids are misusing them. This research follows the recent FDA approval for OxyContin prescriptions in patients ages 11 to 16.

Furthermore, trends of misuse were significant regardless of age, gender, geography, and payer type. Overall, 53% of the patients met this definition, which is a decrease from the 63% found four years prior. However, the researchers cautioned that this drop should be taken with a grain of salt as various factors, like confirmation on medical records may not have been available, may have affected the results. The drug misuse data was broken down into age groups to detail more specific findings.

“This is trouble because it strongly suggests, using objective lab data, that there truly is no good way to predict which patient may abuse a prescribed therapy — everyone is potentially at risk,” Leland F. McClure, PhD, director, medical science liaison at Quest Diagnostics, said in a news release.

Another daunting section of the study addressed additional drug use in combination with the opioids. From 2011 to 2014, the percentage of patients who tested positive for other drug(s) that they were not prescribed — in addition to their prescription opioids – climbed from 32% to 35%. Marijuana was the most common combination drug in the 10 to 19 age group with opiates coming in second. In age groups 30 to 39, 40 to 49, 50 to 64, and 65 and older, opiates were the most common followed by oxycodone.

“This is worrisome as it suggests high rates of potentially dangerous drug combinations,” the authors warned in the analysis.

Government officials continue to make strides towards helping the prescription drug epidemics, such as launching a CDC prevention program in 16 states, but controlling the high rates of opioids misuse prove to be an uphill battle.