Dental issues remain a significant cause of opioid prescriptions among teens and young adults, according to researchers at the Division of Emergency Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Division of Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
“Teens and young adults are highly susceptible to misusing and becoming addicted to opioids,” said study author Florence Bourgeois, MD, MPH, of the Division of Emergency Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital.
“We decided to take a look at 10 years of opioid prescribing to youth aged 13 to 22 years, and we found the results concerning,” said Bourgeois.
“We set out to get a comprehensive snapshot of opioid prescribing to youth that could guide efforts to reduce prescribing,” said author Joel Hudgins, MD, of the Division of Emergency Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital.
The researchers analyzed data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey from 2005 to 2015, including visits to emergency departments for adolescents age 13 to 17 and young adults from 18 to 22.
More than 78,000 teens and young adults visited an emergency room or outpatient clinic during the study period. Nearly 15% of emergency department visits ended with an opioid prescription, while outpatient clinics averaged a 3% prescribing rate.
Visits for dental disorders resulted in an opioid prescription in 60% of adolescent visits and 58% of young adult visits. By comparison, 47% of adolescent patients with a collarbone fracture were prescribed an opioid, as were 38% of adolescents with ankle fractures.
“Rates of opioid prescribing were much like those in older adults, when they should be used more sparingly in young people,” said Bourgeois.
“Opioid prescribing was especially common for certain conditions. We think doctors may simply be following long established practices, rather than more recent pain management recommendations,” said Hudgins.
“There were other conditions where alternatives to opioids should be considered,” said Bourgois. “For many of these conditions, there’s good evidence indicating that acetaminophen or ibuprofen works just as well.”
The authors conclude that these findings can help guide initiatives designed to reduce excessive opioid prescriptions, especially as research continues to further define and address the opioid epidemic in this high-risk population.
The study, “Trends in Opioid Prescribing for Adolescents and Young Adults in Ambulatory Care Settings,” was published by Pediatrics.