Adolescent Painkiller Abuse Likely to Begin During High School

Daniel Weiss, Senior Editor
Published Online: Tuesday, May 15, 2012
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Cross-sectional surveys show that initial prescription painkiller abuse among adolescents peaks at age 16, earlier than previously thought.

Adolescents are most likely to begin abusing prescription painkillers at age 16, according to the results of a study published online on May 7, 2012, in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. The study, carried out by researchers from Michigan State University, was based on cross-sectional surveys of participants between the ages of 12 and 21 in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2004 through 2008.
The researchers analyzed the survey responses of 119,877 participants between the ages of 12 and 21. (They initially looked at the responses of 138,729 participants, but eliminated 18,852 (13.6%) who had first abused prescription painkillers before the year in which they were being assessed.) Their results showed that the risk of starting to use prescription painkillers for extramedical reasons rose from 0.5% at age 12 to 2.8% at age 16 and then fell to 1.1% at age 21. In all, they found that approximately 1 in 60 youths between the ages of 12 and 21 began extramedical use of prescription painkillers each year.
The researchers note that since adolescents are at the greatest risk of beginning to abuse prescription painkillers before the end of high school, strategies designed to guard against this abuse should be reconsidered.
“With the peak risk at age 16 years and a notable acceleration in risk between ages 13 and 14 years, any strict focus on college students or 12th graders might be an example of too little too late in the clinical practice sector and in public health work,” the researchers write. “There is reason to strengthen earlier school-based prevention programs and early outreach along the lines of effective school-based alcohol and tobacco public health initiatives.”
To read the study, click here. (Registration may be required for access to full text.)

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