In stark contrast to most research that suggests senior year in high school or later is the peak time for misuse of prescription pain relievers, it is younger 16-year-olds who are the mostly likely to report their first use of these agents outside their intended prescription within the previous year, a new study finds.
The time for physicians to identify risk and intervene is the young to middle teenage years, Elizabeth A. Meier, Ph.D., and her associates at Michigan State University in East Lansing reported.
“With peak risk at age 16 years and a notable acceleration in risk between ages 13 and 14 years, any strict focus on college students or 12th graders might be an example of too little too late in the clinical practice sector and in public health work,” they wrote in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, published online May 7, 2012.
“We suspect that many physicians, other prescribing clinicians, and public health professionals will share our surprise that for youth in the United States, the peak risk of starting extramedical use of prescription pain relievers occurs before the final year of high school [and] not during the post-secondary school years,” the authors wrote.
Another reason to screen your young adolescent patients is the risk of hazardous consequences associated with prescription pain misuse, which is greatest during early adolescence, Dr. Meier and her colleagues noted.
They assessed self-reported extramedical prescription pain reliever use among 119,877 U.S. teens and young adults (ages 12-21 years) using 2004-2008 data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).
They calculated the highest risk estimate, 2.8%, at 16 years of age. This is an increase from 0.5% at 12 years; 0.7% at 13 years; 1.6% at 14 years; and 2.2% at 15 years. After the peak in mid-adolescence, risk dropped steadily by 0.3% or 0.4% each year, down to 1.1% among 21-year-olds.
Reliance on self-reported misuse of prescription pain killers is a limitation of the study. A strong point of the research, however, was including adolescents and young adults regardless of whether they were still in school.
Earlier and stronger school-based prevention and outreach programs are warranted, according to the researchers. There also is a distinct role and reason for pediatricians, dentists, and other clinicians to work toward misuse prevention in their practices, they added: roughly 15% of the youths surveyed were not in school during the peak time of risk.
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