We have a drug problem in this country, and it’s not on the streets, it’s in the doctor’s office. Our tendency to prescribe opiates for control of pain is out of control. According to a new study, nearly half of teens aged 13-17 who visit their doctor for a headache are prescribed one or more opioid medications.

Opioids are dangerous. They are addictive and are the class of prescription drugs most likely to be sold on a secondary market for cash. Worst of all, they are the most common cause of accidental poisoning in the country and may soon overtake cars as the leading cause of accidental death.

Teens Routinely Given Opium

When teens see their doctor for a headache, nearly half of them receive a prescription for opioid medication, according to a study of nearly 8400 teens who saw their doctors for a headache. These were teens who had not had a head trauma, just a newly diagnosed headache. For their headache, doctors prescribed opiates in 46% of cases. Of those who were given an opioid prescription, 48% received a single prescription, while 29% were given three or more prescriptions for opiates. About a quarter of those given opioids were diagnosed with a migraine.

It seems that the opiate prescriptions are associated with more severe pain, although they were not necessarily more effective for controlling pain. Teens who were given opiates were twice as likely to visit the emergency department after receiving their medication than those who were not given medication (28 vs. 14%).

Ignoring Guidelines for Teen Medications

Current guidelines recommend against giving teens opiates for pain. Not only are opiates addictive, prone to abuse, and likely to lead to poisoning, but they have diminished effectiveness with use. As users become more resistant to opiates, they need higher and higher doses to get relief. They are also more likely to experience rebound or medication induced headaches.

Obviously, though, many doctors do not take these guidelines seriously, following the same pattern that has made opioids the most commonly prescribed class of medications in the US.

Drug-Free Headache Treatment

Teenage headaches may be due to TMJ. TMJ often develops during teenage years, and if not treated it can lead to recurrent tension headaches and may even trigger migraines. Not all teens are good candidates for TMJ treatment, but for some it can mean a drug-free way to reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches. Along with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), TMJ treatment is one of many drug-free treatment options available.

To learn whether your teen’s headaches can be treated without drugs, please call (303) 691-0267 at the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado in Denver.