Teens and young adults with mental health disorders are at increased risk for long-term use of presciption painkillers such as Vicodin and Oxycontin, according to a new study.
Researchers examined data from more than 62,000 young people, aged 13 to 24, in the Western, Midwestern and Southwestern United States. Those with mental health disorders were more likely to be prescribed opioids for chronic pain and 2.4 times more likely to become long-term opioid users than those without mental health disorders.
Long-term opioid use was more common among males, older youth and those who lived in poorer communities with more white residents.
Long-term use was defined as using opioids for more than 90 days within a six-month period, with no gap in use of more than 30 days.
The study appeared June 6 in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
"There are a number of reasons adolescents and young adults with mental health issues are more likely to become long-term users of opioids," study author Dr. Laura Richardson, of the Seattle Children's Research Institute and the University of Washington, said in an institute news release. "Depression and anxiety might increase pain symptoms and lead to longer treatment, and physicians may see depressed patients as being more distressed and may be willing to treat pain symptoms over a longer period of time."
During the past two decades, there has been a marked increase in the long-term use and abuse of opioid painkillers in the United States, and prescription opioids account for nearly 87 percent of prescription-drug misuse among high school students, according to the news release.
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse has more about painkiller abuse.