Correlates and motivations of prescription opioid use among adolescents 12 to 17 years of age in the United States

Pain. 2020 Apr;161(4):742-748. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001775.


Despite significant efforts, the opioid crisis remains a pressing health concern affecting adolescents. The primary aim of this study was to describe recent sociodemographic shifts in the opioid epidemic. We examined whether rates of opioid use, including opioid misuse and opioid use disorder among 12 to 17 year olds in the United States, differ according to sociodemographic factors, physical and mental health, and substance use characteristics using data from the 2015 and 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. We also examined motivations for opioid misuse. The study included 27,857 participants. Black, non-Hispanic adolescents were more likely to both use and misuse opioids as compared to white, non-Hispanic adolescents, a clear difference from previous studies. The main motivation for misuse by adolescents was relief of physical pain (50%, 95% confidence interval 46%-54%). Adolescents who reported pain relief as the major reason for misuse had increased odds of substance use as compared to adolescents who did not report any opioid misuse. However, odds for substance use was greatest among adolescents who reported reasons other than pain relief for opioid misuse. National Survey on Drug Use and Health self-report data suggest recent shifts in opioid misuse with minority adolescents appearing to be at increased risk of opioid misuse compared with white adolescents. Relief of physical pain is the most common motivation for opioid misuse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / drug therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / drug therapy
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Prescription Drug Misuse
  • Prescriptions
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Analgesics, Opioid