Increasing use of nonmedical analgesics among younger cohorts in the United States: a birth cohort effect

PURPOSE: Nonmedical use of prescription pain drugs (hereafter “analgesics”) has increased substantially in recent years. It is not known whether today's youth are disproportionately driving this increase or, instead, the trend is a general one that has affected cohorts of all ages similarly. To address this question we present the first age-period-cohort analysis of nonmedical use of analgesics. METHODS: Data come from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a series of annual, nationally representative, cross-sectional surveys of the US civilian, noninstitutionalized population. The analysis focuses on the years 1985-2009 and uses the recently developed “intrinsic estimator” algorithm to disentangle age-period-cohort effects. RESULTS: Substantial increases in the prevalence of nonmedical analgesics use (NAU) have occurred across all cohorts and ages in recent years, but this increase is significantly amplified among today's adolescents. The odds of past-year NAU for today's youngest cohort (born 1980-1994) are higher than would be expected on the basis of their age and broad, historical period influences that have increased use across people of all ages and cohorts. The independent influence of cohort on past-year NAU is about 40% higher for today's youth cohort than any of the cohorts that came before them. This finding is present among men, women, non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, and Hispanics. CONCLUSIONS: Although nonmedical use of analgesics is evident among all ages, cohorts, and periods, today's younger cohorts warrant special attention for substance abuse policies and interventions targeted at reversing the increase in NAU.