Young Adults' Odds of Prescription Opioid Abuse Doubled in a Decade

Young adults are twice as likely to have a prescription opioid use disorder compared to a decade ago, according to researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

The study, published online in the journal Addictive Behaviors, is the first to investigate time trends and increases over the last decade (2002 to 2014) in prescription opioid use disorder, defined as meeting the criteria for DSM (clinical) abuse and dependence and needing treatment.

Study participants included adolescents (12 to 17 years), emerging adults (18 to 25 years), and young adults (26 to 34 years) who used prescription opioids for nonmedical purposes.

Emerging adults had a 37 percent increase in the odds of having prescription opioid use disorder, and young adults doubled their odds from 11 percent to 24 percent. Among adolescents, the prevalence of prescription opioid use disorder remained relatively stable during the same period.

Data originated from the 2002 to 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

“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,” said first author Silvia Martins, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology.

The researchers also found a four-fold and nine-fold increase over time in the odds of heroin use among emerging adults and young adults who had used opioids without a medical prescription, respectively.

“We see an increasing trend from 2002 to 2014 among both groups,” said Martins.

The odds of past-year heroin use among emerging adults rose from two percent to seven percent, and from two percent to 12 percent among young adults. Nearly 80 percent of 12- to 21-year-olds who reported initiation of heroin use had previously started using prescription opioids between the ages of 13 and 18.

“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 Martins.

“Our analyses present the evidence to raise awareness and urgency to address these rising and problematic trends among young adults,” said Martins.

Source: Columbia University Medical Center