The ongoing opioid epidemic has been a global concern for years, increasingly due to its heavy toll on young people's lives and prospects. Few studies have investigated trends in use of the wider range of drugs prescribed to alleviate pain, psychological distress and insomnia in children, adolescents and young adults. Our aim was to study dispensation as a proxy for use of prescription analgesics, anxiolytics and hypnotics across age groups (0-29 years) and sex over the last 15 years in a large, representative general population. The study used data from a nationwide prescription database, which included information on all drugs dispensed from any pharmacy in Norway from 2004 through 2019. Age-specific trends revealed that the prevalence of use among children and adolescents up to age 14 was consistently low, with the exception of a substantial increase in use of melatonin from age 5. From age 15-29, adolescents and young adults used more prescription drugs with increasing age at all time points, especially analgesics and drugs with higher potential for misuse. Time trends also revealed that children from age 5 were increasingly dispensed melatonin over time, while adolescents from age 15 were increasingly dispensed analgesics, including opioids, gabapentinoids and paracetamol. In contrast, use of benzodiazepines and z-hypnotics slightly declined in young adults over time. Although trends were similar for both sexes, females used more prescription drugs than their male peers overall. The upsurge in use of prescription analgesics, anxiolytics and hypnotics among young people is alarming.Trial registration The study is part of the overarching Killing Pain project. The rationale behind the Killing Pain research was pre-registered through ClinicalTrials.gov on April 7, 2020. Registration number NCT04336605; https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/record/NCT04336605 .
Keywords: Anxiety; Pain; Pharmaco-epidemiology; Prescription drugs; Sleep.
© 2022. The Author(s).