What Does It Mean to “Misuse” Opioids?

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Opioid pain medications are now the single deadliest drug in the U.S. There were almost 19,000 deaths from prescription opioid overdoses in 2014, compared with about 4,000 deaths back in 1999. That’s an increase of 375 percent in 15 years. Fortunately, fewer than one percent of those deaths were teens.

The number of teen deaths from opioids is much lower than for adults, because fewer teens than adults are misusing prescription opioids. Last year, NIDA’s annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey found that teens’ use of opioids has been decreasing in recent years. That means more teens are making smart choices about misusing opioid pills. That’s the good news.

The dangers of misuse

It’s still important to know that teens are at risk for misusing opioids. Even though the percentage of deaths for teens is low compared to adults, we still lost 76 young people in 2014 from prescription opioid overdoses, which resulted from misuse of the drug.

“Misusing” opioids could mean different things, including:

  • taking an opioid that was prescribed for someone else (even if you’re taking it to reduce your own pain);
  • taking a higher dose of an opioid than you were prescribed;
  • taking an opioid (yours or someone else’s) to get high—this is often called “abuse.”

Opioids can bring relief—and risks

Some people may believe that because the opioid was prescribed by a doctor, that means it’s safe to take. But a prescription means the doctor wants you to take a certain amount of an opioid at specified time intervals (daily, twice daily, etc., depending on what the doctor says), and then to stop taking it as soon as you can get relief from over the counter medicines, like aspirin or Tylenol.

If you have leftover opioids, you should dispose of them. The Food and Drug Administration has guidelines on how to safely dispose of drugs.

Bottom line: It’s worth remembering that opioids, like any prescription drug, can be helpful if used correctly, but dangerous if they’re not taken under a doctor’s order, exactly as directed. When it comes to teens’ misuse of opioids, do your part to keep the numbers heading down!

Learn more: How to safely dispose of (throw away) opioids.

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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