Prescription Drug Abuse Tied to Suicidal Thoughts in Teens, Study Finds

Prescription Drug Abuse Tied to Suicidal Thoughts in Teens, Study Finds

Prescription Drug Abuse Tied to Suicidal Thoughts in Teens, Study Finds

Prescription Drug Abuse Tied to Suicidal Thoughts in Teens, Study FindsOpioids and stimulants are among the most commonly abused forms of prescription medication in the U.S. In both teenagers and adults, ongoing abuse (or physical dependence stemming from that abuse) can lead to diagnosis of a mental health condition called substance use disorder. In a study published in 2013 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, researchers from the University of Denver identified the types of prescription opioids and stimulants most commonly abused by teenagers. These researchers also determined the most likely health outcomes of prescription stimulant and opioid abuse.

Prescription Opioid Basics

Like illegal opioids, prescription opioids have their roots in chemicals found in the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). Pharmaceutical manufacturers derive some opioid products directly from the opium poppy’s chemical constituents, while other products are designed to synthetically mimic these chemicals’ effects. Prescription opioids have a legitimate place in modern medicine because of their ability to alleviate pain or (in some cases) ease the effects of drug or alcohol addiction. However, the brain mechanisms that give them their pain- and addiction-relieving powers also make them fairly frequent targets for abuse and addiction. Commonly available opioid medications include codeine, hydrocodone (Vicodin), tramadol (Ultram, Ryzolt), buprenorphine (Subutex, Buprenex), morphine, hydromorphone (Dilaudid) and oxycodone (Percocet, OxyContin).

Prescription Stimulant Basics

Like illegal stimulants, prescription stimulants increase the brain’s capacity for experiencing pleasure, heighten short-term energy levels and increase a person’s ability to concentrate and selectively focus his or her attention. They also increase a person’s heart and breathing rates and make a number of other physical changes normally associated with the body’s built-in “fight-or-flight” response. Legitimate medical uses of prescription stimulants include treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), treatment of the sleep-wake disorder called narcolepsy and, in relatively rare circumstances, treatment of the symptoms of major depression or some other depressive disorder. Commonly available stimulant medications include amphetamine (Adderall, Dexedrine) and methylphenidate (Concerta, Ritalin).

Prescription Drug Abuse Basics

In general medical terms, prescription drug abuse occurs whenever people use their own medication or someone else’s medication in ways not specifically outlined by the physician who wrote the orders for medication use. In mental health terms, medication abuse occurs whenever someone misusing a prescription develops a dysfunctional or dangerous pattern of behavior centered on the medication in question. The American Psychiatric Association, which issues guidelines for the diagnosis of mental disorders, used to make a clear distinction between substance abuse (non-addiction-related dysfunction) and substance dependence (addiction-related dysfunction). However, the organization now includes all abuse and addiction of prescription medications and other substances under the larger heading of a single mental health diagnosis, called substance use disorder.

Findings in Teenagers

In the study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, the University of Denver researchers examined more than 16,000 instances of opioid and stimulant abuse in U.S. teenagers between the ages of 13 and 19. They obtained their information from a large-scale survey program specifically geared toward reporting and categorizing prescription misuse throughout the country. After reviewing their data, the researchers concluded that teenagers abuse prescription opioids roughly twice as often as they abuse prescription stimulants. They also concluded that teenage girls abuse prescription medications at a slightly higher rate than teenage boys. The single most frequently abused prescription medication among U.S. teenagers is hydrocodone, the authors of the study report. In order, the four other most frequently abused medications are amphetamine, oxycodone, methylphenidate and tramadol.

After considering the motivation for teen prescription abuse, the researchers concluded that almost 40 percent of abusers either had suicidal intentions or were suspected of having suicidal intentions. Roughly 4,800 of the reported instances of prescription abuse resulted in some sort of treatment at a clinic or hospital. Almost 3,800 of these instances resulted in inpatient hospital treatment, while slightly less than 1,300 of those affected were in enough physical distress to require treatment in intensive care.

Only 0.1 percent of all teen prescription abusers included in the study died as a result of their medication misuse. Roughly 4 percent of those affected had severe health problems, while approximately 23 percent had more moderate health problems. About 40 percent of prescription abusing teens experienced relatively minor health problems, while only approximately 17 percent experienced no adverse effects from their misuse. The medications most likely to result in death when abused were methadone and oxycodone. Stimulants as a whole were not linked to fatal abuse outcomes.

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