Some Teens Reporting Nonmedical Use of Prescriptions Develop Disorders

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Dr. Li-Tzy Wu and colleagues at Duke University and the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation found that 1 percent of the 36,992 respondents age 12 to 17 to the 2006-2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) met the criteria for a diagnosis of abuse or dependence on opioid analgesics, which are prescription pain relievers. The teens reported one or more abuse symptoms—such as interference with school and home life, exposure to physical danger, and problems with family and friends—resulting from the nonprescribed use of these pain relievers; or they reported symptoms of dependence disorder—such as experiencing pain-reliever tolerance or withdrawal and giving up activities.

images of pills pouring out of pill bottle

Seven percent of the NSDUH teen respondents reported that they had used prescription painkillers on a nonmedical basis during the past 12 months. Of this group, 7 percent met diagnostic criteria for abuse and 9 percent for dependence; another 20 percent had symptoms that did not reach the threshold for a diagnosis. The teens who misused painkillers had done so for 56 days, on average, in the year under review, and those who were dependent on the drugs had used them for 87 days. Girls were significantly more likely to become dependent on pain relievers than boys, a finding that the researchers suggest may reflect, in part, girls' greater tendency to share prescribed pain relievers with friends.

Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 47(9):1020-1029, 2008. [Full Text (PDF, 475KB)]