Adolescents are prescribed opioid drugs disturbingly often for headache

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Screen Shot 2014-01-10 at 2.30.15 PMA current article in the Journal of Adolescent Health reports that adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 are often prescribed opioid drugs to treat headaches. The authors of the paper, led by Dr. Andrea DeVries of HealthCare, Inc. in Wilmington DE, collected information from commercial and pharmacy claims submitted between January 2007 and December 2008 on prescription of opioid drugs for newly diagnosed headaches, and for teens with two or more different claims for headache pain.

Nearly 8400 teens records were reviewed, and the researchers found that nearly half 45 percent received at least one prescription for an opioid drug to treat headache. Further, of these teens, 23 percent got two prescriptions, and an astounding 29 percent received three or more. Co-author Dr. Alan Rosenbergcommented to MedPage Today "The general impression was that opioid prescriptions for this population would be low. Obviously, that impression was not borne out by the data.

Although these data came from records that are now six or seven years old, there is no reason to think the results are not still valid. Indeed, as we have noted before, deaths from drug overdoses rose in 2010 for the 11th year in a row, and nearly 60 percent of those resulted from use of prescription medications. Indeed, between 2000 and 2012, deaths related to prescription painkillers increased by a whopping 233 percent. While these astonishing increases are surely not caused solely by teens taking opioids for headache, the large proportion of teens who are prescribed such medications are obviously reason for concern.

Dr. Gilbert Ross, ACSH medical director, had this comment: It is not clear to me why such a large percentage of teens are prescribed this type of drugs, which are highly addictive and very prone to abuse. It seems to me that more attention must be paid to this issue by physicians with an eye to reducing this practice, and increasing the prescription of other, less worrisome drugs for headache relief. I would be comfortable wagering, however, that a lot of those drugs are not being taken by the patients for whom they were prescribed perhaps a good thing but are being shared, distributed, and/or sold to others NOT a good thing. The answer: doctors must be more careful with such dangerous drugs.