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Even Legit Use of Painkillers Can Put Teens at Risk

Even Legit Use of Painkillers Can Put Teens at Risk

Researchers have discovered that high school students who legitimately use an opioid prescription are one-third more likely to abuse the drug by age 23 than those with no history of the prescription.

University of Michigan investigators found teens abuse OxyContin, Vicodin and other prescription pain relievers to get high, relax, or feel good after leaving high school. This happens despite adolescents’ strong disapproval of marijuana use, researchers say.

Researchers believe the findings are timely as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recently decided to approve use of OxyContin for children ages 11 to 16.

Although counterintuitive, the risk of future abuse is concentrated among adolescents who have little or no history of illegal drug use and who strongly disapprove of drug abuse.

Experts say this may be at least partly explained by the novelty of drug use effects as a prescription pain reliever is likely to be their initial experience with an addictive substance.

“Most likely, the initial experience of pain relief is pleasurable and this safe experience may reduce perceived danger,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Richard Miech, research professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

“A pleasurable and safe initial experience with a drug is a central factor in theories of who goes on to misuse drugs.”

In contrast, among adolescents with more extensive drug experience, the legitimate use of a prescription pain reliever may be expected to make relatively less of an impression compared to other controlled substances they have used.

“Although these experienced individuals may go on to misuse prescription pain relievers, such misuse does not appear to result from an introduction to pain relievers through a legitimate prescription,” Miech said.

Researchers analyzed data from the Monitoring the Future study, a nationally representative sample of 6,220 individuals surveyed in 12th grade and then followed up through ages 19-23. Participants indicated if they misused opioids in the last 12 months.

Researchers say parents should be informed of the study results as they may opt for non-opioid options for painful conditions. If necessary, pain relievers could be prescribed as a second option if non-opioid treatments are insufficient.

Miech and colleagues say the data does not have information on the dose, length, or effectiveness for opioid prescriptions. In addition, teens who dropped out of high school by 12th grade — a segment previous research indicates has higher drug use levels — are not factored.

The findings appear in the current issue of Pediatrics.

Source: University of Michigan
Teenager taking a pill photo by shutterstock.

Even Legit Use of Painkillers Can Put Teens at Risk

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Even Legit Use of Painkillers Can Put Teens at Risk. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 27 Oct 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.