September 11, 2008
Adolescents — or at least adolescent mice — are more likely than adults to become addicted to OxyContin, a widely prescribed opioid painkiller.
The authors of a study published Sept. 10 inNeuropsychopharmacologybelieve this may have to do with adolescents’ heightened sensitivity to the “high” brought on by the drug.
But this in no way should be taken to mean that the drug, whose generic name is oxycodone, does not have a legitimate place in pain management.
“It’s a proven research fact that people who use opioids, which are the most effective pain-relieving medication, on a regular basis do not get addicted and do not abuse them,” said Anna Ratka, chair and professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the Texas A&M Health Science Center’s Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy, in Kingsville.
According to Ratka, who was not involved in the study, “the biology of those people in pain doesn’t allow them to become sensitive. The bodies of those young, healthy people who just start taking oxycodone for fun respond differently than the body of those in pain.”
According to background information in the paper, abuse of prescription OxyContin is a major public health issue in the United States, particularly among adolescents and young adults.
A federal report issued last week found that while cocaine and methamphetamine use among young adults in the U.S. fell in 2007 compared with 2006, abuse of prescription pain relievers by young adults rose 12 percent, to 4.6 percent.
Ratka stressed, however, that few prescriptions are actually written for younger people — this age group usually obtains such drugs illegally.
Addiction often begins in adolescence and young adults, when the central nervous system is still evolving.
For this study, by researchers at Rockefeller University in New York City, adolescent and adult mice were allowed to self-administer varying doses of OxyContin.