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Problem Statement: Opioid Use among Adolescents
Pamela D. Easter
Policy II: Social Policy and Social Justice
Dr. Kiana Battle
March 13, 2022
Opioid use Among Adults
Opioid use in the United States among adolescents poses one of the worst health concerns. Evidence shows that the deaths rate due to opioid overdose has been higher among adolescents from 15 to 19 years (Spencer & Weathers, 2020). Additionally, the number of adolescents using opioids increased by 618% from 1992 to 2002 and has continually increased with more deaths reported. Over the same period, Further research shows it is estimated that about 2.8 million teenagers misused opioids. Those with the highest risk of abusing opioids include female and older adolescents and those coming from low-income families (Spencer & Weathers, 2020). This essay aims to discuss the opioid epidemic among adolescents, the existing policies, and the gaps in the policies.
Social Issue and Target Population
The social issue is the opioid epidemic, while the target population is adolescents. Opioid use among adults in the United States is pervasive. According to the 2015 survey, approximately 91.8 million civilian Americans use opioids, translating to 37.8% of the American population (Han et al., 2017). Demographic risk factors influencing opioid misuse include sex, race, income levels, academic attainment, and race. Females are more likely to misuse opioids than males. Also, whites people with low academic attainment and incomes have an increased risk of opioid misuse. The prevalence of opioid abuse among adolescents averages between 4.8% and 7.5% annually (Bonar et al., 2020). Abuse occurs when the opioid medications are used in excess or for other reasons other than intended.
Opioid use among adolescents has numerous side effects. First, there is a correlation between academic performance and opioid drugs. Clayton et al. (2019) investigated the relationship between opioid use and individual behaviors using data from the 2017 Youth Risks Survey that comprised 14765 adolescents from 9th to 12th grade. The data analysis results showed that adolescents using opioid drugs had low academic attainment. Furthermore, opioid use was more likely to commit suicide or engage in the victimization of other students (Clayton et al., 2019). Other behaviors associated with opioid misuse included a continued feeling of hopelessness, alcohol use, and increased engagement in early sex, which translated to early pregnancies among the female adolescents (Clayton et al., 2019). Therefore, opioid misuse has adverse effects on adolescents and could trigger a high prevalence of other social problems such as violence.
Accessibility, Quality & Service Delivery
Opioid drugs are easily accessible across the United States, partly explaining why many adolescents abuse them. The number of opioid prescriptions increased from 174 million in 2000 to 238 million in 2011 (Mazer-Amirshahi et al., 2014). Accessible opioid has been characterized by increased abuse, addiction, and fatalities among the users (Mazer-Amirshahi et al., 2014). Seemingly, there are weak policies to regulate opioid use, which has become a national crisis. The drugs are accessed freely or through theft from friends and families members (American Psychiatric Association, n.d). Users also abuse these opioids by filling prescriptions in different pharmacies to avoid being identified (American Psychiatric Association, n.d). The uncontrolled access to opioids among the target population increases exposure to other mental disorders such as addiction, which leads to higher doses that slow down breathing and heart rate, leading to death.
Existing Social Policy
The Federal government, through Congress, has created several measures to contain the opioid epidemic. Congress passed Opioid Verification Act in 2021 to reduce prescription shopping and illegal selling of opioids (Congress.gov, n.d). Additionally, Congress passed the Synthetic Opioid Danger Awareness Act that mandated the CDC to conduct an awareness campaign on the dangers of opioids and the available treatment options (Congress.gov, n.d). The other intervention by the government was the drafting of CREATE Opportunities Act, which established a federal grant program to offer addiction treatment for incarcerated Americans.
Detrimental Effects of Deficient Policies
The existing policies have some gaps. First, they focus on the treatment side. Most programs are created to treat addiction and create awareness of the dangers of opioid medication. Subsequently, the number of opioid users and deaths resulting from the opioid epidemic has continuously increased despite the interventions (Davies et al., 2017, Mazer-Amirshahi et al., 2014). There is a need for policies to focus on strict and comprehensive opioid regulatory measures that apply to manufacturers, hospital facilities, and pharmacies. Also, opioid sellers should be mandated to have a license to monitor opioid prescriptions easily.
Summarily, opioid use in the United States among the target population is high. Most adolescents obtain opioid prescriptions from multiple doctors and pharmacists, while others freely get or steal them from relatives. Over fifty million of the target population use opioids; many are abusing the drugs. Some of the side effects incurred include death, addiction, and insomnia. Existing policies have failed to end the crisis as opioids continue to be readily accessible through various means. Thus, more robust initiatives are needed to deal with opioids.
American Psychiatric Association. Opioid use disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved March 5, 2022, from
Bonar, E. E., Coughlin, L., Roche, J. S., Philyaw-Kotov, M. L., Bixler, E. A., Sinelnikov, S., Kolosh, A., Cihak, M. J., Cunningham, R. M., & Walton, M. A. (2020). Prescription opioid misuse among adolescents emerging adults in the United States: A scoping review. Preventive Medicine, 132, 105972.
Clayton, H. B., Bohm, M. K., Lowry, R., Ashley, C., & Ethier, K. A. (2019). Prescription opioid misuse associated risk behaviors among adolescents. American Journal Preventive Medicine, 57(4), 533–539.
Congress.gov, (n.d). Retrieved March 8, 2022 from
Davis, M. A., Lin, L. A., Liu, H., & Sites, B. D. (2017). The Prescription opioid use among adults with mental health disorders in the United States. The Journal the American Board of Family Medicine, 30(4), 407–417.
Han, B., Compton, W. M., Blanco, C., Crane, E., Lee, J., & Jones, C. M. (2017). Prescription opioid use, misuse, and use disorders in U.S. adults: 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and health. Annals of Internal Medicine, 167(5), 293.
Mazer-Amirshahi, M., Mullins, P. M., Rasooly, I., van den Anker, J., & Pines, J. M. (2014). Rising opioid prescribing in adult U.S. emergency department visits: 2001-2010. Academic Emergency Medicine, 21(3), 236–243.
Spencer, M. R., & Weathers, S. (2020). Trends and risk factors adolescent opioid abuse/misuse: Understanding the opioid epidemic among adolescents. International Journal Adolescent Medicine and Health, 33(4).
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