Younger teenagers are at higher risk of becoming dependent on prescription drugs within a year of when they began using them for non-medical reasons, a new study suggests.
The findings are based on a nationally representative sample of 12- to 21-year-olds taken each year between 2002 and 2013. Out of about 42,000 respondents, researchers found that 14- and 15-year-olds are two to three times more likely to become opioid dependent within a year after first extra-medical use compared to 20- and 21-year-old users.
The research also reconfirms from earlier studies that peak risk for starting to use prescription painkillers above the prescribed intent is 16 and 17 years old.
“Many kids start using these drugs other than what’s prescribed because they’re curious to see what it feels like,” says Maria A. Parker, a doctoral student working with James C. Anthony, professor in the epidemiology and biostatistics department at Michigan State University.
“The point of our study was to estimate the risk of dependency after someone in this age group starts using them beyond the boundaries of a doctor’s orders.”
The findings, published in the journal PeerJ, come at a time when individual states are increasing efforts to combat the growing prescription drug problem.
“It’s important to identify when young people are starting to use these drugs because it allows us to provide prevention or intervention outreach strategies around these ages and much earlier on so things don’t escalate into something worse,” Parker says.
Knowing where the drugs are coming from and educating parents on the prescribed dosages appropriate for their children, as well as proper places to store drugs, are all ways to help ensure they are using them safely, she says.
“No age group is free from risk though.”