Teens Prone to OxyContin Addiction

A new study published in the September 10 issue of Neuropsychopharmacology suggests that teens are more susceptible to becoming addicted to the pain killer OxyContin than adults.

A new study published in the September 10 issue of Neuropsychopharmacology suggests that teens are more susceptible to becoming addicted to the pain killer OxyContin than adults. However, researchers drew this conclusion based on a study of adolescent mice. In the study, the mice were able to self administer varying doses of the drug. Researchers found that the younger mice actually took less OxyContin than their adult counterparts, possibly indicating that “they were more sensitive to its effects earlier on.” In addition, the younger mice were also more sensitive to the drug in their adult stage, which suggests that early drug abuse may have “led to permanent changes in their developing brain.”

Because addiction in humans often begins in adolescence and young adults, when the central nervous system is still developing, researchers believe the reason for this finding is due to adolescents’ “heightened sensitivity to the high brought on by the drug.” The results of the study may help explain why illicit OxyContin use is such a rampant problem in the United States, particularly among this age group. In fact, a federal report issued this month stated that, although cocaine and methamphetamine use among young adults in the US fell in 2007 compared to 2006, abuse of prescription pain killers by young adults increased during that period. What’s even more troubling is how teens are obtaining these prescription drugs; few prescriptions of such strong opioid painkillers are intended for this age group, meaning that the adolescents are getting them illegally.

Although this study is similar to others being conducted on nicotine and amphetamines, it’s important to recognize that mice and humans do have different pain responses, and that more studies are likely needed to better understand these associations. To read more about OxyContin abuse, visit Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.