New study finds teens still commonly prescribed opioids

Teen opioid prescription trends

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - As the nation continues to battle an opioid epidemic, a recent study finds the rates of opioid prescriptions remain high for adolescents and young adults.

Researchers analyzed visits to emergency rooms and outpatient clinics for teens and young adults ages 13 to 22 from the years 2005 to 2015. The report published on Tuesday in the journal Pediatrics shows over the time span, there were more than 78,000 visits to emergency departments and outpatient clinics, with nearly 15% of ER visits resulting in opioid prescriptions. That’s compared to 3% of teens and young adults who were seen in an outpatient clinic.

In the emergency room you’re more likely to have acute illnesses, like fractures and sprains, which could lead to the likelihood of opioid prescriptions, said Dr. Paul Richardson, chief medical officer at Conway Medical Center. However, the study also shows some conditions prompted an opioid prescription more often than others. Therefore, teens visiting the ER for dental issues resulted in an opioid prescription nearly 60% of the time, topping collarbone fractures and broken ankles. These numbers were high enough to shock some doctors, including Richardson, who say many dental issues can be relieved with non-opioid alternatives like Ibuprofen or Tylenol. Richardson says the study should shine a light on education.

“Well I think I think number one - what we can do is actually what we’re doing here - is education, both of health care provider education, physician mid-level provider education, as well as public education," said Richardson.

Past studies have shown using prescription opioids at such a young age can increase a teen’s risk of opioid misuse in the future by more than one-third. In addition, medical professionals say the number of pediatric deaths attributed to opioids have nearly tripled from 1999 to 2016.

Dr. Richardson says although there are some cases where opioids are needed, they should not always be considered the first method of treatment.

“My thing is just the alternative methods and the alternative modalities that we have now and that’s really what we have to look towards as far as non-opioid drugs, certain injections of long-acting ‘numbing medicine’ for lack of a better term," said Richardson.

The last year of the data included in this study was 2015, and Richardson hopes opioid prescription rates have decreased in emergency rooms since then. He also believes there still needs to be more research done on the use of opioids in the pediatric population to provide more data on this epidemic.

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