Detour: Teens in Rural Areas More Likely to Abuse Painkillers

Table of Contents

When you think about the drug trade in America’s big cities, it seems like it might be easier for teenagers to abuse drugs like prescription painkillers. With the massive amount of drugs flowing in and out of large cities, there’s certainly no shortage in the supply. Thousands of drug dealers set up shop, doling out pills on street corners, in abandoned houses and everywhere in between.

Despite the odds, however, new research shows American teens living in small towns and rural areas are more likely to abuse prescription painkillers than teens living in big cities.

Small Town Addiction

Sociologists at Penn State looked at the 2011 and 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a poll of 32,036 teens that focused on misuse of prescription opioids.

The researchers found that teens between ages of 12 and 17 living in rural communities were 35 percent more likely to have abused prescription painkillers. What’s more, teens living in small cities were 21 percent more likely to have abused these drugs than teens in larger cities.

The most common painkillers of abuse included OxyContin, Percocet and other morphine-based opiate drugs. The research also showed that girls were more likely than boys to abuse prescription painkillers.

“Over 1.3 million adolescents abused prescription opioids within the last year,” said Shannon Monnat, assistant professor of rural sociology, demography, and sociology at Penn State. “With this number of adolescents there are major implications for increased treatment demand, risk of overdose and even death from these opioids.”

The Rise of Rural Opiate Dependency

One reason for the rising rate of opioid abuse among rural adolescents could be the limited access to medical care. Teens living in rural areas are more likely to go to the emergency room than visit a primary care doctor. And ER doctors are more likely to prescribe painkillers than primary care doctors, said Khary K. Rigg, assistant professor of mental health law and policy, University of South Florida, who worked on the study.

“There has been a shortage of primary care practitioners in rural areas for a long time,” said Monnat. “Often, emergency rooms or urgent care clinics might be the only place for someone to receive treatment in a rural area.”

There are a small number of factors set up to prevent painkiller abuse in rural areas, however. Those often include limited access to illicit drugs, more anti-drug pressure from peers and stronger religious beliefs.

“Religious beliefs and the fact that their friends are more disapproving of substance abuse appear to be protective factors against painkiller abuse,” said Monnat.

Recognizing Teenage Opioid Abuse

Teenage opioid abuse is particularly dangerous, as the signs can be much less apparent than those associated with other drugs abuse. Alcohol, methamphetamine and marijuana make for great examples of that statement.

“Some parents don’t even know their children are addicted to painkillers because their kids are functioning well in everyday life,” said Monnat. “Opioid abuse is different from drinking, for example, because parents can usually tell if their child is drunk, and it’s even different from marijuana use because there are behavioral differences that they may be able to notice if their kid is smoking weed.”


Additional Reading:  Heroin Use Increasing Across New Demographics, Study Finds

Image Source: Pixabay

American Addiction Centers logo
Begin treatment today

The content on is brought to you by American Addiction Centers (AAC), a nationwide network of leading substance abuse and behavioral treatment facilities.

Verify Your Insurance CoverageView Our Treatment Centers

Find a rehab center near you

Related articles
american addiction centers photo
The editorial staff of is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers . Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands of pages for accuracy and relevance. Our reviewers consistently monitor the latest research from SAMHSA, NIDA, and other reputable sources to provide our readers the most accurate content on the web.
Popular Providers