The majority of adolescents taking prescription opioids for non-medical purposes were found to get these drugs from someone else, according to a study published in Addictive Behaviors.

Investigators conducted a cross-sectional survey of 10,965 individuals age 10 to 18 and living in 10 US metropolitan areas. The survey contained questions pertaining to past-30-day non-medical use of prescription opioids (ie, non-oral opioids and/or the use of someone else’s opioids).

In this cohort, 3.1% of adolescents (56% boys, 44% girls) reported using prescription opioids in the past 30 days for non-medical purposes. Of the 345 adolescents who used opioids non-medically, 59.7% reported using someone else’s prescription opioids only, 5.2% reported using opioids non-orally only, and 35.1% reported using someone else’s opioids and taking the drugs non-orally. Girls were 1.87 time more likely than boys to have used someone else’s opioids in the past 30 days and had 57% lower odds of using both someone else’s opioids and using opioids non-orally. 

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The most common sources for prescription opioids were someone at school (50.2%) and a parent (31.5%), with 60% of boys who used non-medical opioids getting them from someone at school and 41.6% and 37.3% of girls getting them from a parent and someone at school, respectively. Of adolescents who used opioids for non-medical use, 88.4% of boys and 92.6% of girls used opioids orally. In participants who used opioids non-orally, 92.8% did so by snorting the drugs, and boys were more likely to snort the drugs compared with girls (n=85 vs n=44, respectively; P <.01).

Study limitations include an inability to report on changing patterns over time due to the cross-sectional nature of the study.

“Regardless of sex, the majority of youth with non-medical use were using someone else’s opioids,” the researchers noted. “[T]o combat the current opioid crisis, implementation of strategies to prevent youth from sharing opioids, especially with friends from school, should be considered and tested.”

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Osborne V, Striley CA, Nixon SJ, Winterstein AG, Cottler LB. Sex differences in patterns of prescription opioid non-medical use among 10–18 year olds in the US [published online October 9, 2018].  Addict Behav. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2018.10.009