Upswing in Prescription Opioid Use Disorder and Heroin Use Among Young Adults

Summary: A new study looks at the increased rates of prescription opioid use disorder among younger people.

Source: Columbia University Medical Center.

Odds of prescription opioid use disorder rises 37 percent among adults age 18 to 25 who are nonmedical users.

Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found there was an increase in the probability of having a prescription opioid use disorder in the past year among 18-to 34-year-old nonmedical prescription opioid users in 2014 compared to 2002. This is the first study to investigate time trends and increases over the last decade in prescription opioid use disorder, defined as meeting the criteria for DSM (clinical) abuse and dependence and needing treatment. Study participants included adolescents (12 to 17 years), emerging adults (18 to 25 years), and young adults (26 to 34 years) who used prescription opioids for nonmedical purposes. Results are published online in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

Emerging adults had a 37 percent increase in the odds of having the disorder, and young adults doubled their odds from 11 percent to 24 percent. Among adolescents, the prevalence of prescription opioid use disorder remained relatively stable during the same period. Data originated from the 2002 to 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

The researchers also found a four-fold and nine-fold increase over time in the odds of heroin use among emerging adults and young adults who used opioids without a medical prescription, respectively. “We see an increasing trend from 2002 to 2014 among both groups,” noted first author Silvia Martins, MD, PhD, associate professor of Epidemiology.

The odds of past-year heroin use among emerging adults rose from 2 percent to 7 percent and from 2 percent to 12 percent among young adults. Nearly 80 percent of 12-to 21-year-olds who reported initiation of heroin use had previously started using prescription opioids between the ages of 13 and 18.

“Given this and the high probability of nonmedical use among adolescents and young adults in general, the potential development of prescription opioid use disorder among youth and young adults represents an important and growing public health concern,” noted Dr. Martins.

Image shows a bottle of pills.
The researchers also found a four-fold and nine-fold increase over time in the odds of heroin use among emerging adults and young adults who used opioids without a medical prescription, respectively. image is for illustrative purposes only.

Overall, however, the past-year prevalence of nonmedical prescription opioid use significantly decreased from 2002 to 2014 among adolescents (from 8 percent to 5 percent), and emerging adults ages (from 11 percent to 8 percent), and remained unchanged among young adults at 6 percent.

“Our analyses present the evidence to raise awareness and urgency to address these rising and problematic trends among young adults,” said Dr. Martins. “While increases in prescription opioid use disorder might be rooted in health policy, medical practice, pharmaceutical industry interests, and patient behavior, it is critical that the general public, particularly youth, are informed about the related harms and disorders that can occur when prescription opioids are used without regular medical supervision.”

About this neuroscience research article

Co-authors are: Luis E. Segura, Julian Santaella-Tenorio, Alexander Perlmutter, and Katherine M. Keyes, all of the Mailman School of Public Health; Magdalena Cerdá, University of California, Davis; Miriam C. Fenton, Rutgers University Institute for Health; Lilian A. Ghandour, American University of Beirut; Carla L. Storr, University of Maryland School of Nursing; and Deborah S. Hasin, Mailman School of Public Health and New York State Psychiatric Institute and the Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University.

Funding:The study was supported by the national Institute on Drug Abuse DA031099; 1R01HD060072; 1R01DA037866-01; K01 AA021511, New York State Psychiatric Institute.

Dr. Hasin is principal investigator of a study on a measure of addiction to prescription opioids funded by InVentive Health Consulting, which combines support from nine pharmaceutical companies. The other authors declare no financial conflicts of interest.

NeuroscienceNews would like to thank Stephanie Berger for submitting this research article directly to us.

Source: Stephanie Berger – Columbia University Medical Center
Image Source: image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Abstract for “Prescription opioid use disorder and heroin use among 12-34 year-olds in the United States from 2002 to 2014” by Silvia S. Martins, Luis E. Segura, Julian Santaella-Tenorio, Alexander Perlmutter, Miriam C. Fenton, Magdalena Cerdá, Katherine M. Keyes, Lilian A. Ghandour, Carla L. Storr, and Deborah S. Hasin in Addictive Behaviors. Published online August 30 2016 doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2016.08.033

Cite This Article

[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]Columbia University Medical Center. “Upswing in Prescription Opioid Use Disorder and Heroin Use Among Young Adults.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 30 September 2016.
<>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]Columbia University Medical Center. (2016, September 30). Upswing in Prescription Opioid Use Disorder and Heroin Use Among Young Adults. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved September 30, 2016 from[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]Columbia University Medical Center. “Upswing in Prescription Opioid Use Disorder and Heroin Use Among Young Adults.” (accessed September 30, 2016).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]

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  1. Stop the drug war with objective of shutting down the black market. The drug war has failed. The drug war is driving the problems, not fixing them. Decriminalization/legalization is necessary, it needs to be backed up with public health announcements explaining exactly why it is needed. Its not in any way condoning the abuse of addictors, it is done bc the alternative, the drug war, has made things infinitely worse on almost every level, to include making drugs abundantly available to any & all that wants them.
    We need to pull LE out of the drug biz – that will free up a lot of resources currently chasing their collective tails. When the laws create more harm and cause more damage than they prevent, its time to change the laws. The $1 TRILLION so-called war on drugs is a massive big government failure – on nearly every single level. Its way past time to put the cartels & black market drug dealers out of business. Mass incarceration has failed. We cant even keep drugs out of a contained & controlled environment like prison.
    We need the science of addiction causation to guide prevention, treatment, recovery & public policies. Otherwise, things will inexorably just continue to worsen & no progress will be made. Addiction causation research has continued to show that some people (suffering with addiction) have a “hypo-active endogenous opioid/reward system.” This is the (real) brain disease, making addiction a symptom, not a disease itself. One disease, one pathology. Policy must be made reflecting addiction(s) as a health issue.
    The war on drugs is an apotheosis of the largest & longest war failure in history. It actually exposes our children to more harm & risk and does not protect them whatsoever. In all actuality, the war on drugs is nothing more than an international projection of a domestic psychosis. It is not the “great child protection act,” its actually the complete opposite.
    The lesson is clear: Drug laws do not stop people from harming themselves, but they do cause addicts to commit crimes and harm others. We need a new approach that decriminalizes the disease. We must protect society from the collateral damage of addiction and stop waging war on ourselves. We need common sense harm reduction approaches desperately. MAT (medication assisted treatment) and HAT (heroin assisted treatment) must be available options. Of course, MJ should not be a sched drug at all.
    Every human being is precious, worthy of love and belonging, and deserves opportunities to fulfill his or her potential regardless of past trauma, mental and emotional anguish, addictive behaviors or mistakes made.

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