Risk of Long Term Opioid Use for Adolescents and Young Adults with Mental Health Disorders

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A team of researchers at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the University of Washington collaborated on a longitudinal study to examine the associations between mental health disorders and risk for long term opioid use among adolescents and young adults aged 13-24. The concluded that those subjects with mental health disorders were not only more likely to be prescribed opioids for chronic pain but also 2.4 times more likely to become long term opioid users that those subjects without a mental disorder. Further findings reveal that long term opioid use was more common among males, older youth and youth who lived in economically disadvantaged communities, had more white residents and where fewer residents had attended college.

This study, Mental Health Disorders and Long-term Opioid Use Among Adolescents and Young Adults With Chronic Pain,” was published in the June 2012 Journal of Adolescent Health. Data contains information from January 2001 to June 2008 and tracked opioid use patterns of 62,560 subjects who were adolescent or young adults from the West, Midwest, and Southwest portions of the United States. For the purpose of this study, long term opioid use was defined as using opioids for more than 90 day within a six month period with no gap usage over 30 days. Chronic pain complaints among subjects in this study included back pain, neck pain, headache and arthritis or joint pain.

Reasons why this population has a greater risk for addiction to opioids are many. Dr. Richardson, one of the principal investigators on this study suggests that, “Depression and anxiety might increase pain symptoms and lead to longer treatment, and physicians may see depressed patients as being more distressed and may be willing to treat pain symptoms over a longer period of time.”

It is known this is a nationwide problem. Prescription opioids constitute 86.9% of prescription drug misuse among high school students. Long term use and abuse of opioids including Vicodin and OxyContin have increased significantly in the U.S. in the last two decades.
Source:Seattle Children's Hospital

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