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Recently funded project to explore opioid use disorders in teenagers

Researchers will have a better understanding of factors associated with opioid use disorders in teenagers through a new project recently funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Douglas Leslie, PhD, professor of public health sciences at Penn State College of Medicine, will use national healthcare claims and survey data to not only understand factors of associated with opioid use, but better understand how the kind and duration of treatments affect outcomes and risk of relapse. The project received about $1.8 million over three years.

“Opioid use disorders are a particularly dangerous component of substance use disorders, resulting in increased deaths from overdoses; negative clinical, emotional and social conditions; and potentially life-changing effects from the impairment during this critical developmental and educational period,” Leslie said. “In 2014, there were 467,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 and 978,000 young adults aged 18-25 who were using opioids for non-medical reasons in the United States. Even worse, many teenage users of opioids for non-medical reasons later switch to heroin. According to National Survey on Drug Use and Health data from 2002 to 2011, 79.5 percent of heroin users reported using opioids for non-medical reasons prior to their heroin use.”

In the project, researchers believe that while opioid use will be shown to have increased over time, differences in diagnosis and treatment will not be explained simply by the prevalence of opioids, but by other characteristics including age, sex, health history, and having a prior opioid prescription. They also believe that the data will show that these characteristics along with state and local characteristics, affect the kind and duration of treatment teenagers receive. Lastly, researchers believe that those in treatment for longer periods of time, regardless of where they live, will have a lower risk of returning to an emergency department or be hospitalized for opioid use. By testing these beliefs, it could help find new ways to alleviate the crisis of opioid misuse across the country.

“By better understanding how adolescents with opioid use disorder are treated and how such treatments affect risk of using again, hospital and detox services, providers, insurers and policymakers will be better able to design developmentally appropriate treatment processes and policies to help alleviate this public health crisis.”

Also on the grant from Penn State are Guodong Liu, assistant professor of public health sciences, and Austin Cohrs, project manager.

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