Adolescent Opioid Research

The Opioid Epidemic: A Focus on Adolescents in the October issue of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services e-newsletter details recent data on opioid use among adolescents, as well as a great list of resources available to organizations.

The opioid epidemic affects individuals and communities across the United States in a variety of ways. Opioids are a broad class of drugs that relieve pain and include prescription pain relievers, synthetic drugs such as fentanyl, and heroin. Overall, overdose deaths from heroin and other opioids have increased over the past decade, and the public, private, and nonprofit sectors are working to address the growing epidemic.

In 2016, 3.6 percent of adolescents ages 12-17 had misused opioids over the past year, a figure that has remained stable over the past decade. However, overdose deaths from opioids for adolescents ages 15-19 increased from 1999 through 2007, declined from 2007-2014, and then began rising again in 2015.

All adolescents are at risk for misusing opioids, even those who have not previously used drugs and who disapprove of illegal drug use. In fact, there is a 33 percent increased risk of future opioid misuse if a high school student uses opioids as prescribed by a doctor.

Few adolescents with an opioid use disorder (OUD) receive treatment, and disparities exist. From 2001 to 2014, for insured youth with an OUD, only one in four received treatment. Females were less likely to receive treatment compared to males, and youth who were Hispanic or non-Hispanic black were less likely to receive treatment than their non-Hispanic white counterparts.


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