People may take medication for a variety of reasons — from surgery recovery to a life-long illness to chronic sleep issues, which affect up to 18% of U.S. adults, medication can be beneficial for certain situations. But in recent years, the U.S. has seen an increase in opioid prescriptions, which has turned into a nationwide crisis. And a new study shows that opioid prescriptions for adolescents and young adults still remain high.
In this study, researchers looked at data from two surveys that were conducted by the National Center for Health. The data was from 2005 to 2015 and looked at patients between the ages of 13 and 22 who had visits to emergency rooms and outpatient clinics during that time period.
During this time period there were over 78,000 patients in that age group who took a trip to an emergency room or outpatient clinic. And of these visits, 15% of emergency room visits and 3% of outpatient clinic visits included an opioid prescription.
Dr. Joel Hudgins, lead author and clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, explained, “To be frank, these were numbers that surprised us a little bit with how high those numbers were… There are national guidelines on opioid prescribing for adults, and that really helps prescribers know how long, what the right duration is, and what the right opioid is, and things like that. There really aren’t those guidelines, or at least not at the national level, for adolescents and young adults.”
The researchers did see a decrease of 4% in opioid prescriptions at emergency rooms over the 11-year period, but there was not a significant change seen in outpatient clinics.
While it’s true that there are conditions, like premenstrual syndrome, that rarely call for an opioid prescription, the data showed that there were a few conditions that opioids were prescribed for more than others — in young adults, 58% of prescriptions were for dental disorders, 38% were for low back pain, and 35% were for neck sprains. In adolescents, 60% were for dental disorders, with 47 for collarbone fractures, and 38% for ankle fractures.
And although it’s true that 58 million people go to a gym every year, even those in good health can experience accidents that result in injury. But unfortunately, teens and young adults are at a higher risk for abusing opioids.
The researchers explained that while opioids may be necessary in some cases, it’s recommended that patients try non-opioid options first. Seeing as how the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that more than 130 Americans die every day due to an overdose on opioids, it’s important to limit the number of people who unnecessarily receive opioids.
Dr. Hudgins said he hoped that the number of opioid prescriptions has decreased in recent years and will continue to do so. He also says parents should always ask doctors whether or not an opioid prescription is truly necessary for their child’s medical situation.