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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Drexel Chaired State Report: Prescription Opioid Misuse in Young Pennsylvanians Down, But Varies by County

New data suggests that prescription opioid misuse among young Pennsylvanians has declined in recent years, but levels — and factors surrounding the misuse — vary across the state.

“Understanding the mechanisms that lead to misuse is key — and these data can help inform multiple prevention efforts that can be used to respond to the differences across the state,” said Dr. Philip Massey, assistant professor in Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health.

Massey serves as the chair of the Pennsylvania State Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup (SEOW), which put out the data study.

The brief shows that in 2011, 10.8 percent of young adult Pennsylvanians (aged between 18 and 25) were estimated to have misused a prescription opioid such as Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, or others. But by 2014, that number declined to 8.7 percent. Among Pennsylvania youths (12- to 17-year-olds), the estimate went from 6 percent to 4.5 percent in the same span.

However, differences remained across the state, as the western side demonstrated slightly higher levels of misuse. The SEOW divided Pennsylvania up into its six different health districts to better arrange the data. The Northwest District showed the highest rate of lifetime prescription opioid misuse (7.3 percent of youths), with the Southwest District coming in just behind it (7 percent)..

Ease of Access

“Perceived ease of access to prescription drugs varied across counties, ranging from 17 to 37 percent of youth who reported that it was easy to acquire prescription drugs,” Dr. Massey said.

Ways that young people got prescription drugs trended about the same across the state, with notably more youths saying they were given prescription drugs as opposed to taking them from someone without their permission. The two places where that was different were the Southeast and Northeast Districts, where the differences between being given and stealing drugs was negligible.

Improving Efforts

Massey and the SEOW team hope their data can be used to provide better services and strategies for combatting opioid spread in Pennsylvania.

“It’s a large and diverse state — both in terms of geography and demographics — and, because of this, has a diversity of needs and assets when it comes to prescription opioid misuse,” Dr. Massey explained. The county-by-county differences in how youths obtain opioids are an example of that, he said.

“Prevention efforts will likely be most effective if they are tailored to address diversity like that,” Dr. Massey said. “A one-size-fits-all approach is less likely to be effective.”

Next steps toward better understanding the different ways young people encounter and think about opioids in Pennsylvania would involve studying factors like family, community or environmental factors.

“We will need to continue to move beyond traditional descriptive data to get at these drivers of misuse,” Dr. Massey said.   See the full data brief here