Two studies suggest some cautious good news for the opioid epidemic

Opioid addiction heroin crisisJohn Moore/Getty ImagesA drug user takes a needle before injecting himself with heroin on March 23, 2016 in New London, CT. Communities throughout New England and nationwide are struggling with the unprecedented heroin and opioid pain pill epidemic. On March 15, the U.S. Centres for Disease Control (CDC), announced guidelines for doctors to reduce the amount of opioid painkillers prescribed nationwide, in an effort to curb the epidemic. The CDC estimates that most new heroin addicts first became hooked on prescription pain medication before graduating to heroin, which is stronger and cheaper.

The opioid epidemic may finally be on the decline, at least among younger people and prescription painkillers, two studies published last week in the medical journal Pediatrics
The studies which were funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that teen prescription opioid use and poisonings have declined over last several years.

One of the studies, which tracked teen prescription opioid use between 1976 and 2015, found that teen use began declining in 2013.

While use has fluctuated over the period of the study — which surveyed students in 135 public and private high schools across the country — it reached peaks in 1989 and 2002.

The study authors suggested that the most recent decline in prescription opioid use coincided with similar declines in prescribing in the US over the same time period.

The study authors found one other troubling data point that indicates the effect prescribing has had on the crisis: non-medical use of prescription opioids was almost always preceded by a legitimate prescription.

“It is our hope that these declines are due to careful prescribing practices and enhanced monitoring of prescription opioids among adolescents that will eventually translate to a reduction in negative opioid-related consequences, such as overdoses,” Sean Esteban McCabe, a research professor at the University of Michigan Substance Abuse Research Center and the lead author of the study, told WGBH News.

Overprescription of painkillers. is commonly considered one of the main drivers of the current opioid crisis, as Business Insider’s Harrison Jacobs has reported.

Over the past decade, the US has suffered rising rates of prescription and illicit opioid use, leading to skyrocketing deaths from drug overdoses. In December, the CDC also reported that 52,404 people died from drug overdoses in 2015. Young people have been hit hard by the crisis — between 1997 and 2012, opioid poisonings among those aged under 19 increased by 161 per cent, according to a 2016 Yale University study.

A second study in Pediatrics examined
188,468 prescription opioid exposures at poison control centres for people under 20 from 2000 through 2015.

Using data from the National Poison Data System, the researchers found that youth exposures of opioids has been going down since 2009 for all but buprenorphine, an opioid commonly used to treat addiction. Between 2009 and 2015, the rate of children of all ages poisoned by opioids fell by slightly more than 30 per cent. It is still higher than it was in 2000 however.

Study author Dr. Marcel Casavant, the chief of toxicology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and medical director of the Central Ohio Poison Center in Columbus, Ohio cautioned to Reuters that the study only accounts for opioid exposures that resulted in calls to poison centres, not all exposures, and thus is an incomplete picture. One factor for the decrease not accounted for in the study is a potential rise in heroin use in recent years, which many studies have reported.

NOW WATCH: This is what happens to your brain when you take Xanax

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.