UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa., Sept. 17 (UPI) -- Teenagers in rural areas and small cities are more likely to abuse prescription opioid painkillers than those in big cities and urban areas, according to new research.
Among the likely reasons for the increased use of painkillers such as OxyContin, oxycodone, Percocet and other morphine-based drugs is that rural adolescents are more likely to be treated at emergency rooms where they receive prescriptions, as well as a lack of information about the dangers of abusing them.
"Some parents don't even know their children are addicted to painkillers because their kids are functioning well in everyday life," said Shannon Monnat, an assistant professor of rural sociology, demography, and sociology at Penn State University, in a press release. "Opioid abuse is different from drinking, for example, because parents can usually tell if their child is drunk, and it's even different from marijuana use because there are behavioral differences that they may be able to notice if their kid is smoking weed."
Researchers analyzed data on 32,036 teens between the ages of 12 and 17 that was collected between 2011 and 2012 as part of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Data from the survey showed that 6.8 percent of rural, 6 percent of small urban, and 5.3 percent of large urban teenagers had used a prescription painkiller in the previous year.
When considering risk factors for abusing the drugs, researchers found that rural teens were 35 percent more likely and small urban teens were 21 percent more likely than urban teens to do so. Girls were also found to be more likely to abuse the drugs than boys.
In addition to not understanding the risks of painkiller abuse, researchers pinned some of the problem on rural adolescents seeking medical care from emergency rooms rather than primary care physicians. Doctors in the emergency room are more likely to prescribe the painkillers for care, which when combined with a lack of education about the drugs could be increasing the rates of abuse.
The study is published in the Journal of Rural Health.