Teens Who Take Prescription Painkillers May be at Greater Risk of Future Opioid Misuse

Teens who are prescribed opioid painkillers may be at greater risk of future opioid misuse, a new study suggests. Use of painkillers in high school was associated with a 33 percent increased risk of later misuse.

The greatest risk was among teens with little or no history of drug use, and those who strongly disapproved of illegal drug use, according to HealthDay.

The study included data from more than 6,200 high school seniors, who were followed until they were 23. Lead researcher Richard Miech of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor said the finding may be explained in part by the novelty of the effects of drug use. In teens with no exposure to drugs, a prescription opioid is likely to be their first experience with an addictive substance, he said.

“Most likely, the initial experience of pain relief is pleasurable and a safe initial experience may reduce perceived danger,” he said in a news release. “A pleasurable and safe initial experience with a drug is a central factor in theories of who goes on to misuse drugs.”

Among teens who have experience with drug use, the legitimate use of an opioid painkiller may make less of an impression, Miech noted. “Although these experienced individuals may go on to misuse prescription pain relievers, such misuse does not appear to result from an introduction to pain relievers through a legitimate prescription,” he said.

The findings are published in Pediatrics.

The researchers said their findings are timely in light of the recent Food and Drug Administration’s decision to approve use of OxyContin for children ages 11 to 16.

“These findings suggest a currently unrecognized risk of narcotic prescribing,” Miech said. “This risk should be incorporated into prescribing decisions and patient counseling.” He added that doctors and parents may choose non-narcotic medications as the initial treatment for minor painful conditions in children and teens.

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