Teens who take opioid painkillers without a prescription also often use cannabis, according to a new study.
Researchers analyzed information from more than 11,000 children and teens ages 10 to 18, in 10 U.S. cities. Participants were asked whether they had used prescription opioids in the past 30 days, and whether they had ever used cannabis.
Overall, about 29 percent of the teens said they had used cannabis at some point in their lives. But among the 524 participants who said they had used prescription opioids in the past 30 days, nearly 80 percent had used cannabis.
The findings show that among young opioid users, the prevalence of cannabis use is high, said Vicki Osborne, a doctoral student in epidemiology at the University of Florida. Osborne presented the study Oct. 31 at the meeting of the American Public Health Association in Denver.
Among teens who said they used opioids without a prescription (meaning they obtained the drugs through a friend, family member or other avenue), about 88 percent had used cannabis, compared with 61 percent of those who did have a prescription for the opioids they used. [Mixing the Pot? 7 Ways Marijuana Interacts with Medicines]
The study also found that the teens who reported having used alcohol or tobacco in addition to opioids were much more likely to use cannabis as well. Of the participants who had used opioids, those who also reported recent alcohol use were nearly 10 times more likely to have used cannabis, compared with those who didn't use alcohol recently. And those who currently smoked tobacco were 24 times more likely to have used cannabis than those who were not tobacco users, the study found.
Efforts to prevent young people who use opioid painkillers from also using cannabis should target those who use alcohol and tobacco, Osborne said. Efforts should also target males, who were more likely to report using cannabis than females were, she said.
Interventions should also target young people who use opioids without a prescription, Osborne said. Even though such use of opioids among youth is not as high as it is among adults, the proportion of youth using opioids without a prescription is still concerning, she said.
The researchers plan to study the data further, and look at when young people start using cannabis versus when they start using opioids, Osborne said.
Previous studies have found that legalizing medical marijuana actually appears to lead to a reduction in opioid use among adults. However, Osborne said the new findings among youth may be different from those in adults, because even in states that have legalized the use of marijuana, the drug is still illegal for teens to use.
Original article on Live Science.
Live Science newsletter
Stay up to date on the latest science news by signing up for our Essentials newsletter.
Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.