Prescription opioid abuse may be more common in rural youth than urban youth

By Tom Nordlie • Published: December 22nd, 2015
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

The misuse of prescription opioid drugs has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S., with an estimated 2.1 million Americans addicted or impaired.

Prescription opioids are mostly painkillers. Some are actually derived from opium poppies. Others are synthesized.

A new study indicates that rural youth are at greater risk of misusing these drugs, compared with their counterparts in larger communities.

The study, published in The Journal of Rural Health, examined data from two nationally representative drug-abuse surveys involving 32,000 participants ages 12 to 17.

The results indicated that 6.8 percent of rural youth engaged in recreational use of a prescription opioid at least once in the previous year. In contrast, 6 percent of youth in smaller urban centers and 5.3 percent of youth in larger urban centers reported similar use.

The researchers suggested that greater opioid use by rural teens is probably explained by a combination of easy availability and lack of other illicit drugs for sale in the community.

Since 1994, the number of opioid painkiller prescriptions written for adolescents and young adults nationwide has doubled.

Friends and family were the two sources most often cited by rural adolescents who had misused prescription painkillers.

Education seems to be one key to combating youth opioid misuse. From a pharmacological standpoint, these drugs are very dangerous, especially when taken in large amounts, in combination with other drugs or by people with unknown tolerance.

One bad decision with pain pills can lead to a life-threatening overdose.

We need to get the message out.

Each year, prescription opioids kill about 16,000 Americans, and it’s a safe bet many of them were teenagers.