Patterns of Non-Medical Prescription Opioid Use in Adolescents

teenager and drugs
teenager and drugs
The majority of adolescents taking prescription opioids for non-medical purposes were found to get these drugs from someone else.

The majority of adolescents taking prescription opioids for non-medical purposes were found to get these drugs from someone else, according to a study published in Addictive Behaviors.

Investigators conducted a cross-sectional survey of 10,965 individuals age 10 to 18 and living in 10 US metropolitan areas. The survey contained questions pertaining to past-30-day non-medical use of prescription opioids (ie, non-oral opioids and/or the use of someone else’s opioids).

In this cohort, 3.1% of adolescents (56% boys, 44% girls) reported using prescription opioids in the past 30 days for non-medical purposes. Of the 345 adolescents who used opioids non-medically, 59.7% reported using someone else’s prescription opioids only, 5.2% reported using opioids non-orally only, and 35.1% reported using someone else’s opioids and taking the drugs non-orally. Girls were 1.87 time more likely than boys to have used someone else’s opioids in the past 30 days and had 57% lower odds of using both someone else’s opioids and using opioids non-orally. 

The most common sources for prescription opioids were someone at school (50.2%) and a parent (31.5%), with 60% of boys who used non-medical opioids getting them from someone at school and 41.6% and 37.3% of girls getting them from a parent and someone at school, respectively. Of adolescents who used opioids for non-medical use, 88.4% of boys and 92.6% of girls used opioids orally. In participants who used opioids non-orally, 92.8% did so by snorting the drugs, and boys were more likely to snort the drugs compared with girls (n=85 vs n=44, respectively; P <.01).

Study limitations include an inability to report on changing patterns over time due to the cross-sectional nature of the study.

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“Regardless of sex, the majority of youth with non-medical use were using someone else’s opioids,” the researchers noted. “[T]o combat the current opioid crisis, implementation of strategies to prevent youth from sharing opioids, especially with friends from school, should be considered and tested.”


Osborne V, Striley CA, Nixon SJ, Winterstein AG, Cottler LB. Sex differences in patterns of prescription opioid non-medical use among 10–18 year olds in the US [published online October 9, 2018].  Addict Behav. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2018.10.009

This article originally appeared on Clinical Pain Advisor