Study Quantifies Opioid Abuse Rates Among Young People

While rates of overall use of prescription opioid use among young people for nonmedical reasons either dropped or remained relatively unchanged between 2002 and 2014, the development of use disorders later in life increased dramatically.

While rates of overall use of prescription opioid use among young people for nonmedical reasons either dropped or remained relatively unchanged between 2002 and 2014, the development of use disorders later in life increased dramatically.

In a report from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health that the researchers called “the first study to investigate time trends and increases over the last decade in prescription opioid use disorder,” patients were divided into three age groups: adolescents (12 to 17 years old), emerging adults (18 to 25), and young adults (26 to 34). Data was gleaned from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health for the years 2002 and 2014.

Past-year use among the groups showed decreases or remained static: experimentation among adolescents and emerging adults dropped 3% each (8% down to 5% and 11% down to 8% respectively), and among young adults the number stayed steady at 6%.

The likelihood of abuse and addiction, however, and links to eventual heroin use, seem to validate the ever-swelling concern over the nonmedical use of opioids.

Emerging adults showed a 37% increase in cases of prescription opioid use disorder, while the number among young adults rose 13%. Odds of past-year heroin use rose by 5% among emerging adults and 10% among young adults, to a stunning 12% in that group. 80% of 12 to 21 year olds who reported heroin use had also used prescription opioids between the ages of 13 and 18.

The study was recently published in Addictive Behaviors. While its findings may be no surprise to the millions of people whose lives have been affected by the sweeping painkiller and heroin addiction epidemic, they provide a key insight on rates of use, and how legal-but-misused drugs can contribute to the use of entirely illegal narcotics.

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