Over 10 percent of the teens and young adults treated in a hospital emergency room admitted to misusing a prescription painkiller or sedative in the past year, according to a new study at the University of Michigan. The vast majority had no prescription for the drugs.
“Misuse” included taking the drugs to get high, taking more of the drug than was prescribed, or taking drugs prescribed to someone else. Less than 15% of those who admitted misusing painkillers actually had a prescription for the drug.
Researchers surveyed 2,135 young people aged 14 to 20 who were treated in the emergency room for any reason at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor in 2010-2011. Their study, which is published online in the journal Pediatrics, is believed to be the first to look at pediatric misuse of medication in an emergency department setting.
School-based studies have found rates of prescription drug misuse among young people to be about 8 percent. But those studies miss those who have dropped out of school or did not continue their education past high school.
Researchers asked teens and young adults treated in the emergency room about their use of the prescription opioids fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone, buprenorphine, and suboxone; and the sedatives Valium, Serepax, Ativan, Xanax, Librium, Rohypnol, and GHB.
In all, 10.4% of the young patients admitted misusing a prescription painkiller or sedative at least once in the last year.
Those who admitted misusing medication were significantly more likely to have also abused alcohol and non-prescription drugs, such as cough medicine, or to have used marijuana. They were also more likely to have ridden with a drunken driver.
Interestingly, about 1 in 7 participants who admitted painkiller misuse were discharged from the emergency room with an opioid prescription. Only 1 in 15 patients who did not abuse painkillers were given an opioid prescription.
Researchers say the findings suggest that hospital emergency departments (ED) could be an effective setting for screening teens and young adults for prescription drug misuse, and for intervening early before problems arise.
“These patients are often using the emergency department for their medical care, not primary care settings,” said Lauren Whiteside, MD, who led the study during her U-M Injury Center postdoctoral research fellowship.
“So, in order to curb this problem and address overdose and addiction, the ED is a good place to start.”