HARRISBURG – The Wolf Administration has announced a report by the Pennsylvania State Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup (SEOW) that found a decline in prescription opioid misuse among young Pennsylvanians from 2011 to 2014.
Representatives of the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs were part of the SEOW.
“This information is good news,” Gov. Tom Wolf said. “Youth and young adults appear to understand the significant danger of addiction and possible death from the misuse of opioids.”
According to the report 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.
By 2014, the study found 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.
“This report is an encouraging sign in our fight against the opioid epidemic,” DDAP Acting Secretary Jennifer Smith said.
“It found a decline in the misuse of prescription opioids among teens and young adults in Pennsylvania that we hope means that we are educating young people about the dangers of opioid use, including addiction.”
Based on an analysis of standardized data collected by school districts, the report was conducted by the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University as part of a substance use prevention grant awarded through DDAP. Not all school districts across the state participated in the collection of the standardized data.
Misuse of opioids was found to vary among counties. Data was divided into six different health districts.
The analysis found some northwestern counties showed slightly higher lifetime opioid misuse, 7.3 percent of youths, followed by some southwestern counties with a lifetime youth opioid misuse rate of 7 percent.
Southeastern Pennsylvania showed the lowest lifetime misuse rate at 5 percent (data for Philadelphia county was unavailable and not included in the study).
“Opioid misuse varied in different areas of the state,” said Smith. “We need to identify what is being done in areas with better success in teaching about opioid misuse, and replicate those successful health education and awareness campaigns throughout the state.
Almost all youth and young adults, or at least 80 percent in each of the six districts of data, thought that misuse of prescription drugs was risky. A high proportion of youth and young adults said their peers disapproved (at least 83 percent of respondents) and they disapproved of their peers (at least 84 percent of respondents) misusing prescription drugs.
Ease of access to prescription drugs was one finding that is of concern, said Smith. Youth who reported it was easy to acquire prescription drugs varied from 17 to 37 percent across counties, and increased from 24.3 percent to 27.8 percent between 2013 and 2015. More youth in western counties reported that it was easy to get drugs.
Most young people got prescription drugs in the same way, although the study found more youth said they were given prescription drugs as opposed to taking them from someone without their permission. In both the southeast and northeast counties, the percent difference in youth reporting being given or stealing drugs was negligible.
“This information begs for more education efforts,” said Smith. “We need to better explain the dangers of opioid use to parents and others who might be giving medication to youth.
“The commonwealth has a three-pronged approach to fighting opioids: prevention, treatment and recovery.”
“At a time when Pennsylvania is losing 13 people each day to the opioid crisis, everyone must get involved,” Wolf said. “We need parents, schools, faith-based and community initiatives to work with us in government to talk, teach and model evidence-based prevention methods to educate about and stop misuse of opioids.
“Prevention is the key.”