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Opioid Prescription Drug Addiction More Likely After Adolescent Abuse
Adolescents exposed to the painkiller OxyContin are more likely to abuse it if exposed to the drug again later in life, says new research. And with OxyContin, prescription drug addiction is always a threat.
A new study from Rockefeller University reveals that adolescents are more sensitive to OxyContin’s ‘reward effects’ — the high that abusers are looking for — and that they will sustain “lifelong and permanent changes in their reward system” from even a few exposures to the drug.
Because adolescent brains are still forming, exposure to OxyContin — and presumably any of the many other opioid narcotic painkillers — can create changes that increase the drug’s euphoric properties when they experiment with it. This leaves them more likely than others to succumb to the effects of opioids in adulthood, often leading to opioid prescription drug addiction and all the terrible risks to health and life so common among drug addicts.
The study sends a powerful message to parents to talk to their kids about the dangers of prescription drug addiction, and to lock up or hide any prescriptions in the house. Research on adolescent prescription drug addiction and abuse has found that the most common source of such drugs are their own or a friend’s medicine cabinets.
Parents should tell their kids that science has now proven that teenage opioid exposure — even briefly — can set them up for prescription drug addiction and abuse years later. Whether they take the drug for fun, or even take a legitimate prescription from a doctor for a real pain problem, their young brains are being damaged. And that means later in life they are going to have to be extra careful, extra watchful, and avoid at all costs any more exposure to opioids like OxyContin.
And tell your kids that opioid painkillers, OxyContin in particular, are among the most abused and addictive drugs — every bit as dangerous as illicit street drugs like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. OxyContin is basically heroin in a pill, and it is wholly or partly responsible for literally thousands of lives ruined by prescription drug addiction, crime and imprisonment, not to mention thousands more tragic deaths and injuries.
If you want more of the science, it works like this:
During adolescence, everyone’s brain undergoes striking and distinct changes while it finishes growing. A teenager’s ‘reward pathway’ — the area of the brain that recognizes and signals pleasurable activity using a chemical substance called dopamine — creates a lot more dopamine receptors than are in an adult’s brain.
This activity starts to decline as kids mature. But exposure to opioids like OxyContin during this development period tricks the brain into hanging on to more of those receptors than it really needs.
Now, as an adult, re-exposure to opioids creates a rush of euphoria — a ‘high’ — that is way more addictive than that experienced by adults who never tried opioids as kids.
“Together, these results suggest that adolescents who abuse prescription pain killers may be tuning their brain to a lifelong battle with opiate addiction if they re-exposed themselves to the drug as adults,” says Mary Jeanne Kreek, head of the Laboratory of the Biology of Addictive Diseases. “The neurobiological changes seem to sensitize the brain to the drug’s powerfully rewarding properties.”
Abuse of opioid painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, Lortab, and many others, has been soaring in recent years. Research shows that abuse leading to opioid prescription drug addiction has begun most frequently in adolescents and young adults. Studies from both the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration have shown that 11 percent of kids 12 years old or older have abused prescription opiates.
“Despite the early use of these drugs in young people, little is known about how they differentially affect adolescent brains undergoing developmental change,” says Kreek. “These findings gives us a new perspective from which to develop better strategies for prevention and therapy.”
Prevention can start with education — parents talking to their kids in plain language — and by stashing prescriptions where curious kids can’t find or get at them. As for therapy and recovery from prescription drug addiction, anyone of any age should begin with medical drug detox, followed by a prescription drug rehab program if it’s indicated.
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