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Study: Overdose risk doubles for young people with family on opioids

Study: Overdose risk doubles for young people with family on opioids
Adolescents and young adults with family members on opioids are at higher risk of overdose, a new study has found. File photo by rebcenter-moscow/Pixabay

March 27 (UPI) -- Adolescents and young adults with family members on prescription opioids are more than twice as likely as others to overdose on the pain medications, a new study has found.

In results published Friday by JAMA Network Open, researchers note that young people who have access to these drugs from family members may misuse them, perhaps in unsafe amounts.

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Additionally, young people prescribed opioids themselves were six times more likely to overdose on the drugs than those administered to them by a medical professional, the study authors report.

"Prescription opioids are potent medicines that can pose serious health risk to children and teens, if taken accidentally or misused on purpose," study co-author Dr. Anh P. Nguyen, a research post-doctoral fellow at Kaiser Permanente Colorado's Institute for Health Research, told UPI. "Parents should control access to these medications in the home."

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According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 170 million prescriptions for opioid-based pain relievers were written in 2018. Opioids have been found to be highly addictive, and the medications have fueled an "epidemic" of abuse and misuse -- as well as overdose deaths -- across the United States over the past 20 years.

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For the research, Nguyen and his colleagues reviewed health data from more than 45,000 families in a Kaiser Permanente Colorado health plan from 2006 and through 2018. These families included more than 72,000 adolescents and young adults between 11 and 26 years of age.

In general, young people were more commonly exposed to opioids dispensed to a family member than they were to have their own prescription. Nearly 48,000, or 66 percent, of the adolescents and young adults included in the study had at least one family member with an opioid prescription, while just over 26,000, or 37 percent, were prescribed the drugs themselves.

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The risk for overdose doubled for young people with family members on prescription opioids, and increased six-fold for those on the drugs themselves. Risk for overdose increased 13-fold for those who were prescribed opioids themselves and had a family member taking the drugs.

"There are several measures that families can take," Nguyen said. "Opioid medications should be stored securely in a place out of reach. Unused and no longer needed medications should be disposed of properly, such as through a medicine take-back program."

"Controlling access to prescription opioids is just one of several efforts needed to address the opioid crisis," Nguyen added. "It should be paired with strategies to increase screening and access to treatment for substance use disorder."

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