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ER Study Finds 1 in 10 Older Teens Misuse Rx Painkillers and Sedatives

Findings suggest opportunity to screen for prescription drug abuse (October 29)

With prescription drug abuse at epidemic levels nationwide, a study from the University of Michigan (U-M) provides new data about the misuse of potent prescription painkillers and sedatives by teens and young adults.

In all, 10.4% of the teens and young adults treated in the emergency room (ER) for any reason admitted to misusing a prescription painkiller or sedative at least once in the last year, the study finds. That included taking the drugs to get high, taking more of the drug than was prescribed to them, or taking drugs prescribed to someone else.

What’s more, most of this use was apparently illicit: The majority of those who admitted this use had no prescriptions for these drugs on their medical records.

The study also raises the possibility that ER visits, for any reason, could become important occasions for detecting and addressing prescription drug problems among young people.

The results were published online in Pediatrics. The researchers obtained their data from a survey of 2,135 people between 14 and 20 years old conducted in 2010 and 2011 during visits to the U-M Health System’s adult and pediatric ERs.

Lead investigator Lauren Whiteside, MD, said the findings suggest that the ER could be an effective setting for screening teens and young adults for prescription drug misuse, and for intervening early before problems arise.

She also noted that it’s important for emergency physicians to be aware of the risk that patients could be seeking drugs for misuse or diversion to others when they come to the ER.

Source: University of Michigan; October 29, 2013.

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