Awareness of Opioid Risks Does Not Reduce Non-medical Use by Youth

Despite the current epidemic of opioid addiction with its roots in aggressive pain treatment, non-medical use of prescription opioids (NMUPO) for pain remains common among youth. This community survey examined the relationships between knowledge of opioid risks, perceived riskiness, past NMUPO, and willingness to engage in NMUPO among 972 youth aged 15–23 recruited on a college campus.

  • 32% of participants reported past NMUPO.
  • Compared with youth without NMUPO, willingness to engage in NMUPO was correlated with having engaged in NMUPO in the past (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 1.81), and inversely correlated with risk perception (aOR, 0.75).
  • Simple knowledge of opioid risks was not associated with willingness to engage in NMUPO.

Comments: Reducing NMUPO among youth is a critical aspect to ending the opioid epidemic. Understanding decisional factors that drive NMUPO among youth is important for developing effective interventions. The results of this survey demonstrate that knowledge of the harmful effects of opioids does not strongly impact decision-making. Findings suggest that increasing risk perception is a logical target for intervention.

Sharon Levy, MD

Reference: Voepel-Lewis T, Boyd CJ, McCabe SE, et al. Deliberative prescription opioid misuse among adolescents and emerging adults: opportunities for targeted interventions. J Adolesc Health. 2018;63:594–600.

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