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Teens Misusing Opioid Meds Prone to Violence, Suicide, and Dangerous Sex and Driving


​In 2016, over 880,000 U.S. teens, ages 12-17, reported misuse of opioid pain medications—the second most commonly abused illicit substance among American youth—and over the past 20 years hospitalizations for opioid poisoning among children have increased dramatically. A new study, “Prescription Opioid Misuse and Risky Adolescent Behavior,” in the February 2020 Pediatrics found that adolescents who report having ever misused prescription opioids were more likely to have engaged in a broad range of risky behaviors, including risky driving, violence, risky sex, substance use, and suicide attempts. Researchers for the study, which is published online on Jan. 6, examined data from 14,765 participants in the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, a cross-sectional study of students grades 9-12 in public, Catholic, and private schools conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and found 14% of U.S. adolescents reported abusing opioids. The research also showed that those who misused prescription opioids were 2.8 times more likely to report not using a seatbelt and to have ridden with an intoxicated driver; 3.9 times more likely to have reported first sexual intercourse before age 13; twice as likely to report not using a condom prior to their last sexual intercourse; four times more likely to have engaged in physical fights in the past year; and five times as likely to have ever attempted suicide and to have carried a gun in the past 30 days. The researchers concluded that when opioid abuse is found, pediatricians, nurses, social workers, child psychiatrists and other providers may want to screen for other risky behaviors, and vice versa. However, they said more research is needed to determine if opioid abuse causes or is caused by these issues, which can contribute to significant health problems, and what role poverty, mental health disorders, and performance in school plays in opioid abuse.


The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.