The University of Michigan School of Medicine has published a study on risky opioid prescriptions written for children and young adults. The study, published in Pediatrics, found that almost 50% of all pediatric prescriptions are “high risk.” 

The longitudinal, retrospective study analyzed patients aged 0 - 21 who received opioid prescriptions. This data was acquired from the IQVIA Longitudinal Prescription Database, which includes 92% of US pharmacies, according to the University of Michigan Health Lab.

With the information from the database, researchers analyzed roughly four million opioid prescriptions dispensed to kids, teenagers, and young adults under age 21 in 2019. 

They categorized the prescriptions as being either a “high-risk” prescription or not. The study defined a “high-risk” prescription as exceeding a recommended supply or dose, or including a combination of drugs not recommended for children.

The researchers found that 3.5% of US children and young adults had at least one opioid prescription prescribed to them in 2019. Of the prescriptions for patients taking opioids for the first time, 41.8% received a supply of opioids for more than three days and 3.8% received enough opioids for more than a week of use. 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a three-day opioid prescription is sufficient to mitigate acute pain; opioid medications prescribed for more than seven days are rarely necessary.

The researchers also determined that the five percent of doctors who wrote the most prescriptions accounted for approximately half of all opioid prescriptions given to children and young adults. This same group was found to have written half of all high-risk prescriptions studied.

Many of these prescribers are dentists or surgeons who prescribed the opioids to treat acute pain following procedures. Additionally, the study found that a disproportionate share of high-risk prescribers practices in the South.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Kao-Ping Chua, M.D. told the University of Michigan Health Lab, “Our study suggests that children and young adults are frequently exposed to unsafe opioid prescriptions, increasing their risk of overdose, misuse, and addiction.”