In this fact sheet, authors Shannon Monnat and Khary Rigg examine prescription painkiller abuse for over 32,000 youth aged 12–17 using data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual nationally representative survey of the non-institutionalized U.S. population. They report that over 1.1 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 (4.7 percent of this population) abused prescription painkillers in 2014. Prescription painkiller abuse was more common among rural than urban adolescents. In 2014, 8.6 percent of rural adolescents, 8.1 percent of adolescents in small urban areas, and 6.5 percent of adolescents in large urban areas reported ever abusing prescription pain relievers.

Painkiller abuse is often a pathway to heroin use, particularly when painkillers become too expensive or difficult to acquire. The authors conclude that whether today’s rural teen painkiller abusers will become tomorrow’s rural adult heroin addicts remains an open question. The answer depends on how quickly and resolutely government leaders and public health professionals address the current painkiller problem.

Publication Date

Fall 10-22-2015


National Fact Sheet No. 33


Durham, N.H. : Carsey School of Public Policy, University of New Hampshire

Document Type



Copyright 2015. Carsey School of Public Policy. These materials may be used for the purposes of research, teaching, and private study. For all other uses, contact the copyright holder.



Included in

Public Health Commons



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.