Youth opioid use on the decline, studies show

Prescription opioid use and overdoses among teenagers and children looks to be declining, according to two studies published this month in the journal Pediatrics.

In one study, researchers analyzed data on prescription opioid exposure among teens and children under 20 years of age compiled in the National Poison Data System from 2000 through 2015. In total, there were 188,468 instances of prescription opioid exposure reported. While the study identified increases in opioid exposure across age groups from 2000 to 2009, the rate of exposure saw significant declines from 2009 to 2015. During the 2009 to 2015 timeframe, the rate of opioid exposures dropped 29.4 percent among children aged 0 years to 5 years old, 31.7 percent among children aged 6 to 12 years old and 30.9 percent among teenagers.

Researchers cited the 2009 launch of the CDC's initiative to reduce accidental medication overdoses among children and the 2014 classification of hydrocodone products as schedule II drugs by the Drug Enforcement Administration as potential contributing factors to the decline in opioid exposure.

In the other study, researchers examined self-reported data on opioid use collected in surveys issued to high school seniors across approximately 135 public and private schools from 1976 to 2015. The study identified an ebb and flow regarding opioid use among survey respondents with a rise in the 1980s, a decline through 1997 and a sharp rise in 2002 that remained stable until a decline in 2013.

"It is our hope that these declines are due to careful prescribing practices and enhanced monitoring of prescription opioids among adolescents that will eventually translate to a reduction in negative opioid-related consequences, such as overdoses," Sean Esteban McCabe, PhD, a research professor at the University of Michigan Substance Abuse Research Center in Ann Arbor and lead author of the 1976-2015 study involving high school seniors, told NPR.

While the studies display trends in opioid use, they do not identify any causal factors driving the data. The studies were supported by the National Institutes of Health and the CDC.

More articles on opioids: 
Study: US poison control centers receive a pediatric opioid exposure call every 45 minutes 
4 issues the opioid epidemic creates for employers 
CDC: Likelihood of chronic opioid use spikes with prescriptions longer than a few days

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