Opioid Use Disorder, Heroin Use Increasing in Younger Adults

A 37% increase in opioid use disorder was found from 2002 to 2014.

A recent study discovered a significant increase in opioid use disorder and heroin use in the younger adult population.

Investigators discovered that younger adults (18- to 34-year-olds) misusing prescription opioids grew from 2002 to 2014. Due to an increase in opioid misuse among younger individuals, a pediatric advocacy group created a new policy statement that recommends physicians treat adolescents and young adults with FDA-approved medication for opioid use disorder.

A majority of these can be prescribed to both adolescents and young adults. The American Association of Pediatrics urges physicians to consider this as a treatment option to decrease the amount of people with the disorder.

In a study published by Addictive Behaviors, investigators examined time trends and increases in prescription opioid use disorder over the past decade. Included were adolescents (12- to 17- year-olds), emerging adults (18- to 25- year olds), and young adults (26- to 34-year-olds) who misused prescription opioids during the study period.

The investigators found a 37% increase in the occurrence of the disorder, and the odds of the disorder increased among young adults from 11% in 2002 to 24% in 2014. No significant differences were discovered among adolescents, according to the study.

During the study period, the use of heroin among emerging adults and young adults who used opioids without a prescription increased 4-fold and 9-fold, respectively. Heroin use in the previous year among emerging adults increased from 2% to 7% during this time, and use among young adults increased from 2% to 12%, the investigators found.

Approximately 80% of participants between the ages of 12 and 21 who reported heroin use also used prescription opioids between 13- and 18-years-old.

“Given this and the high probability of nonmedical use among adolescents and young adults in general, the potential development of prescription opioid use disorder among youth and young adults represents an important and growing public health concern,” said first author Silvia Martins, MD, PhD.

However, researchers said the past-year prevalence of nonmedical prescription opioid use decreased significantly during this time, with the rate decreasing from 8% to 5% in adolescents, and 11% to 8% among emerging adults.

“Our analyses present the evidence to raise awareness and urgency to address these rising and problematic trends among young adults,” Dr Martins said. “While increases in prescription opioid use disorder might be rooted in health policy, medical practice, pharmaceutical industry interests, and patient behavior, it is critical that the general public, particularly youth, are informed about the related harms and disorders that can occur when prescription opioids are used without regular medical supervision.”