Study examines non-medical opioid use among adolescents

A University of Florida study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors finds that 3 percent of 10-18 year-olds had misused opioids in the past 30 days. Most participants reported the opioids were obtained at school or home.

Males who reported non-medical opioid use were more likely to report obtaining the drugs from classmates. Females said they used opioids that belonged to parents or classmates.

The findings are concerning, especially the issue of sharing opioids, said Vicki Osborne, Ph.D., who conducted the study as part of her doctoral dissertation in the department of epidemiology at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and the UF College of Medicine.

“Parents should be aware of youth sharing opioids with friends from school,” said Osborne, now a principal research fellow at the UK’s Drug Safety Research Unit. “They should also consider whether any medication is easily accessible to youth at home and whether it can be stored more securely. Youth may be using medications that belong to their parents without their parents’ knowledge.”

Osborne analyzed data from the National Monitoring of Adolescent Prescription Stimulants Study, which surveyed 11,000 youth ages 10 to 18 living in and around 10 U.S. cities. Interviewers recruited participants at entertainment venues, such as shopping malls, movie theaters, sports and recreation centers, arcades and skate parks. Led by Linda B. Cottler, Ph.D. M.P.H., chair of the UF department of epidemiology and Osborne’s dissertation mentor, the study was carried out in four waves between 2008 and 2011.

Because of the prevalence of using opioids belonging to friends and family, future studies of adolescent opioid use could test the implementation of strategies to prevent youth from sharing opioids, especially with friends from school, Osborne said.

In a study completed by Cottler’s team in September 2018 of 1,777 youth 10-17 years old from six cities nationally, the rate of prescription opioid use was 2.8 percent and 71.4 percent of the users met the definition for non-medical use.

“I hope policy makers will consider youth who may be at risk during the current opioid epidemic, in addition to adults,” Osborne said.

The National Monitoring of Adolescent Prescription Stimulants Study was implemented by the University of Florida and Washington University in St. Louis under contract from Pinney Associates Inc., with funding provided by Shire Development LLC and Noven Therapeutics.