Why Rural Teens Are at Higher Risk for Prescription Drug Use

The drug trade usually brings to mind massive cities with huge networks of people buying and selling drugs. Teens are one of the growing populations of drug users including prescription painkillers, among the most popular. New research has demonstrated American teens living in small, rural towards are actually more likely than those in urban areas to abuse prescription drugs.

Small Towns

Prescription opioids are popular drugs among teens in rural towns. Researchers found teens between the ages of 12 and 17 living in rural communities were a third more likely to abuse prescription painkillers. Teens in small cities were less likely to abuse pain pills. Some of the most common painkillers include:

  • OxyContin
  • Percocet
  • Morphine-based opiates

Rise of Rural Opiate Dependency

One of the main reasons for the increased rate of prescription opioid use in rural teens may be seen in limited access to medical care. Teens in rural areas are more likely to visit an emergency room than visit a primary care doctor. ER doctors are more likely to prescribe painkillers than primary care doctors. A shortage of primary care physicians in rural areas has been pushing adults and teens into emergency rooms and urgent care clinics to receive any treatment.

Signs of Abuse

Opioid abuse among teens is extremely dangerous as the signs may not be as apparent than those associated with other drugs. Alcohol, meth and marijuana are other drugs popular with teens. When teens appear to be high functioning in all other areas of life, parents or caregivers may not recognize the signs of opioid abuse. The following signs may appear if a teen is using opiates:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Itching
  • Flushed skin
  • Slower breathing
  • Small pupils
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Poor judgment

A teen may also appear to be in a state of euphoria, feeling high and happy much of the time. This may be followed by other troublesome symptoms of opioid use which can include withdrawal.

Other Factors

Rural teens may struggle more than those in urban areas due to depressive symptoms. With a history of depression, school dropout rates and two-parent households being mitigating factors, rural teens can struggle to find stability at home and turn to drugs for solace. Teens in fair to poor health were more likely than teens reporting good health to misuse prescription drugs. It is difficult to know overall what factors influence individuals to use opioid drugs. Even more difficult are the risk factors to teens who abuse drugs and are not able to get the necessary support to overcome addiction. Overdose and accidental death are likely if a teen continues to abuse opioids, develops tolerance and does not realize the long term risks of using drugs.


The Villa provides support for individuals who need help getting past addiction. If you or a loved one are struggling to quit alcohol, drugs or prescription medication, there is hope. Call us to find out how we can help you get back to health.