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Adolescents With Mental Health Issues At Risk For Long-Term Opiate Use

Patricia Murphy

A new study shows that young patients who take opiates like Oxycontin for chronic pain are more than twice as likely to become addicted to the drugs if they have a mental health condition. KUOW's Patricia Murphy reports.


Researchers examined opiate–use patterns for more than 62,000 adolescents and young adults. They found that doctors are more likely to prescribe narcotic pain killers like Vicodin to young people with mental health conditions like depression or anxiety.

Those same patients were also more than twice as likely to become long–term opiate abusers. Children's Hospital's Dr. Laura Richardson was the lead researcher on the study. She says opiates can be very effective for short–term pain, but there's not a lot of data to support long–term use for adults or young people.

Richardson: "So I think we need to be careful about long–term use, and about using these medications in teenagers. I also think that in some cases they may be needed, and in those cases but that we need to be really attuned to the mental health of individuals who are receiving these treatments."

The long–term use of opiates has been linked to addiction in some patients. Further, Richardson says depression and anxiety can impede healing.

In many cases she says patients can benefit from resuming their normal lives. It's an area where parents may need to take the lead.

Richardson: "Sometimes we're reluctant to talk about depression and anxiety. But I think if we don't, we're really missing the boat. So I think that parents, if they are worried, should advocate for the doctor to talk with their teen about it."

The study from Children's Hospital and the University of Washington is being published in this month's Journal of Adolescent Health.

I'm Patricia Murphy, KUOW News.

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