Parents Numb to Misuse of Pain Meds by Children

Parents Numb to Misuse of Pain Meds by Children

Checking The LabelDespite rising rates of overdoses and misuse of narcotic painkillers, a new poll from the University of Michigan reveals most parents aren’t very concerned about their teens’ misuse of pain medicines. Only about a third (35%) of parents said they are very concerned about children in their communities misusing narcotics and only one if five (19%) are very concerned about their own children misusing the drugs.

“This is a national problem and a growing problem. The results of this poll are a signal that parents may not be aware of the significant rates of misuse of narcotic pain medicine, “says Sarah Clark, Associate Director of the Child Health Evaluation and Research (CHEAR) Unit at the University of Michigan and Associate Director of the .

The poll found that prescription pain medicine is common in American households with children. In the last five years, 35 percent of parents reported that they had received at least one prescription painkiller for their children. Over half of those prescriptions were for a potent opioid pain medicine such as Vicodin or OxyContin. Two-thirds (66%) of the parents had received at least one pain medicine prescription for themselves or another adult in their household.

Despite the prevalence of painkillers in medicine cabinets, the poll found that parent support was lukewarm for policies that would discourage abuse of pain medicines. Nearly half oppose a requirement that leftover pain medicine be returned to their pharmacy or doctor. And only 41% favored a requirement of a doctor’s visit before obtaining a refill of a prescription pain medicine.

Although rates of narcotic pain medicine use are three times higher among white teens, black parents (38%) and Hispanic parents (26%) are more likely than white parents (13%) to be very concerned about misuse of narcotic pain medicines in their own families.

“People who misuse narcotic pain medicine are often using drugs prescribed to themselves, a friend or a relative. That ‘safe’ prescription may serve as a readily accessible supply of potentially lethal drugs for children or teens,” Clark said.

“Recent estimates are that 1 in 4 high school seniors have ever used a narcotic pain medicine. However, parents may downplay the risks of narcotic pain medicine because they are prescribed by a doctor.”

There was support for some policies to discourage misuse: 66 percent strongly supported requiring parents to show identification when picking narcotic pain medicine for their children. Fifty-seven percent strongly supported policies blocking narcotic pain medicine scripts from more than one doctor.

Potential strategies to combat misuse of narcotic pain medicines are often designed to reduce the ease of access. As measured in this Poll, parents’ lack of support of several potential strategies are another signal that they may underappreciate the growing risk of narcotic pain medicine abuse. For example, parents are more likely to say that they do not support, rather than strongly support, a policy requiring them to return unused pain medication to the doctor or pharmacy—a way to limit the amount of easy-access pills that could be misused.

A University of Michigan report on the National Poll on Children’s Health can be seen here:


Authored by: Elizabeth Magill