Trends in the prescription of opioids for adolescents with non-cancer pain

Gen Hosp Psychiatry. Sep-Oct 2011;33(5):423-8. doi: 10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2011.04.009. Epub 2011 May 31.


Objectives: Opioids are among the most commonly abused drugs among adolescents, and the prescription of these drugs has increased over the last decade. The goal of the current study is to examine trends and factors associated with prescription opioid use among adolescents with common non-cancer pain (NCP) conditions, sampled from two contrasting populations.

Methods: We conducted a secondary data analysis examining time trends from 2001 to 2005 in opioid use in two dissimilar populations: a national, commercially insured population and a state Medicaid plan. We examined trends in mean dose prescribed, mean number of prescriptions and types of medications given, as well as clinical and demographic features of adolescents receiving opioids.

Results: In 2005, 21% of adolescents with common NCP conditions in HealthCore and 40.2% of adolescents with NCP in Arkansas Medicaid had received prescription opioids. The majority of opioid prescriptions in both 2001 and 2005 were for DEA Schedule II and III short-acting opioids. In both samples, rates of prescription were higher for adolescents with comorbid mental health diagnoses compared to those without and for adolescents with multiple pain conditions compared to a single pain condition.

Discussion: Prescription of opioids among adolescents with NCP is common, and the prescription rate is higher among adolescents with multiple pain conditions and comorbid mental health disorders. Further research is necessary to determine risk factors for abuse and misuse of opioids in adolescents to help develop guidelines for use in this age group.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Arkansas / epidemiology
  • Comorbidity
  • Databases, Factual
  • Drug Utilization / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Medicaid / statistics & numerical data*
  • Mental Disorders / complications
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Pain / complications
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Pain / epidemiology
  • Prescriptions
  • Risk Factors
  • United States


  • Analgesics, Opioid