Young People Abusing Painkillers at Rate 40 Percent Higher Than Older Age Groups

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According to a new study recently published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, today’s teens and young adults are using prescription painkillers for nonmedical purposes at a rate 40 percent higher than any other age group - and researchers say it’s a finding present among virtually every gender and racial subset examined.

Increasing Use of Nonmedical Analgesics Among Younger Cohorts in the United States: A Birth Cohort Effect examines data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health,” presents a cross-sectional survey of the United States population focusing on results from 1985 to 2009. Researchers said a substantial increase in the nonmedical use of opioid painkillers like oxycodone and methadone was noted among the youngest age group examined in the study, with teens and young adults born between 1980 and 1994 reporting past-year prescription painkiller abuse, or nonmedical analgesic use (NAU) at a rate much higher than those reported by other age groups. 

Researchers say that, even when taking into account the historically elevated drug use patterns among teens and young adults and overall drug use trends over the last two decades, the age group still demonstrates higher rates of abuse than older cohorts.

“Although nonmedical use of analgesics is evident among all ages, cohorts and periods,” the study concludes, “today’s younger cohorts warrant special attention for substance abuse policies and interventions targeted at reversing the increase in NAU.” 

Two studies published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine earlier this year found as many as 13 percent of the nation’s teenagers have used prescription painkillers for nonmedical purposes. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2009 alone, more than 15,500 people died from prescription painkiller overdoses in the United States.