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Teen Health

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Prescriptions of Controlled Drugs Rise for Teens

Researchers Concerned About Potential for Misuse of Painkillers
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Nov. 29, 2010 -- Controlled medications are increasingly being prescribed for adolescents and young adults, even though abuse of such drugs has become a major public health concern, a new study shows.

Controlled medications were prescribed for 11.2% of visits by adolescents aged 15 to 19 to health care settings in 2007, up from 6.4% in 1994, according to researchers.

Similar medications were prescribed for 16.1% of young adults aged 20 to 29 in 2007, nearly twice the 8.3% recorded for this group of people in 1994.

“This increase was seen among males and females, in ambulatory offices and emergency departments, and for injury-related and non-injury related visits,” say the researchers, led by Robert J. Fortuna, MD, MPH, of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.

The study is published online in advance of the December 2010 print edition of Pediatrics.

The researchers say a controlled medication was prescribed during 9.6% of all adolescent visits and 13.8% of young-adult visits for non-injury related reasons.

For injury-related visits, controlled drugs were prescribed at 14.5% of adolescent visits and 27% of young adult visits, the researchers write.

The statistics come from the National Ambulatory Medical Survey and the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.

Potential for Drug Abuse

It is well-known that the nonmedical use of prescription drugs by adolescents and young adults has surpassed all illicit drugs, except marijuana, in recent years, and become a major public health concern, the researchers write.

These young people, between 15 and 19 and 20 and 29, are in the most likely age groups to abuse prescription drugs.

The increasing rate of prescribing controlled medications to young people may be contributing to the problem of abuse, the researchers suggest.

The rising trend in prescribing controlled medications was most pronounced for opioids for young adults, the researchers say.

The researchers say that although nonmedical use of opioid drugs among adolescents is starting to decline, emergency room visits involving nonmedical use of narcotic pain relievers more than doubled between 2004 and 2008.

The potential for a connection between prescribing such drugs and misuse needs to be studied further, the researchers say.

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