14- and 15-Year-Olds At High Risk for Painkiller Addiction

By Janice Wood
January 12th, 2022
Medically reviewed by Paul Sietes, MD.
14- and 15-Year-Olds At High Risk for Painkiller Addiction

A new study has found that 14- and 15-year-olds are at a higher risk than other young people of becoming dependent on prescription opioids within a 12-month period after using them beyond the prescribed amount.

“Many kids start using these drugs other than what’s prescribed because they’re curious to see what it feels like,” said Maria A. Parker, a doctoral student in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Michigan State University who led the study.

“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 study, based on a nationally representative sample of 12- to 21-year-olds taken each year between 2002 and 2013, focuses on what happens when young people start to use these drugs for other reasons.

Out of about 42,000 respondents, the researchers found that 14- and 15-year-olds were two to three times more likely to become opioid-dependent within a year compared to 20- and 21-year-old users.

The research also reconfirmed earlier studies that found that peak risk for starting to use prescription painkillers above the prescribed intent is seen at 16 and 17 years old, according to the researchers.

The study’s findings come at a time when states, including Michigan, are increasing efforts to combat the growing prescription drug problem.

Earlier this year, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder created a 21-member task force to tackle the issue and offer recommendations to curb prescription drug abuse.

Statistics show that the use of some prescribed pain relieving pills, such as Vicodin, have quadrupled in the last eight years in Michigan. This increase has contributed to the use of other drugs, such as heroin, according to some researchers.

“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 said.

Knowing where the drugs are coming from and educating parents on the prescribed dosages appropriate for their children, as well as the proper places to store drugs, are all ways to help ensure they are using them safely, she added.

Other types of prevention efforts often include peer-resistance programs such as keepin’ it REAL and Botvin LifeSkills Training.

“No age group is free from risk though,” Parker concluded.

The study was published in the journal PeerJ.

Source: Michigan State University


Photo: Maria A. Parker, a doctoral student in Michigan State University’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. Credit: G.L. Kohuth.

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.