A new study found among the 30,000 overdoses reported in 2016 for people ages 12-21, 30% of cases involved prescription opioids.
Doctors might want to reconsider how they prescribe opioid medications to teenagers. According to a new study by University of Michigan scientists, young adults could suffer from the same overdose risk factors as adults. Through data analysis, researchers were able to determine adolescents experience the same rate of opioid overdoses as do adults.
The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, found one in 10,000 young people ages 12-21 will overdose while under active opioid prescriptions. That is the same rate adults suffer within 30 days of surgery. Previous studies reported 1 in 8 adolescents are prescribed opioids each year. Among the 30,000 overdoses reported in 2016 for people ages 12-21, 30% of cases involved prescription opioids.
“Our knowledge of risk factors for prescription opioid overdose comes mostly from studies of middle-aged and elderly patients, particularly U.S. Veterans. There is little data about risk factors for overdose specifically in adolescents and young adults,” lead author Kao-Ping Chua said in a statement.
“These numbers highlight the importance of mitigating overdose risk when prescribing opioids to adolescents and young adults,” he added.
Researchers compiled data from 2.8 million privately insured patients ages 12-21 who had been prescribed opioids and did not have cancer between 2009 and 2017. The study found pre-existing risk factors could determine the likelihood an adolescent might suffer a drug overdose. Their analysis reported patients with a recent mental health diagnosis accounted for half of overdoses, and patients with a substance use disorder for a quarter of overdoses.
Chua described mental health as “a growing crisis among youth,” as more adolescents receive diagnoses for anxiety and depression. With that comes increased responsibility doctors have to screen possible candidates before prescribing opioids.
Researchers also expressed the importance of avoiding prescribing opioids and benzodiazepines. According to previous research, adults ages 18-29 report the highest abuse of benzodiazepines. While this study didn’t include a large number of patients receiving these prescriptions concurrently, the authors determined using opioids and benzos simultaneously was one the of the highest risk factors for overdoses.
Said Chua, “Our findings suggest that clinicians can mitigate overdose risk in adolescents and young adults by using the lowest amount of opioid possible, relying on short-acting opioids, and avoiding the concurrent use of opioids and benzodiazepines.”