Opioids are a prime example, with sales of oxycodone surging 732 percent and those of methadone by more than 1,000 percent between 1997 and 2006.
The authors looked at two national databases to determine how often opioids, sedative-hypnotics and stimulants were prescribed to adolescents and young adults.
In 2007 alone, a scrip for one of these medications was written at 2.3 million visits by adolescents and 7.8 million visits by young adults.
In 1994, such medications were prescribed at only 6.4 percent of such visits for adolescents, but rose to 11.2 percent in 2007. For young adults, the rate increased from 8.3 percent to 16.1 percent.
Doctors wrote these prescriptions in regular doctors' offices and in emergency departments, for injuries and for more pedestrian complaints such as back pain.
A drawback of the study, Fortuna conceded, was that it "did not look at diverted or misused medications."
He and the other researchers called for more investigation into prescribing trends and prescription misuse, noting the potential for trauma, high-risk behaviors and unintentional overdose among those abusing controlled substances.
Other experts agreed that caution was necessary.
"There's a potential connection between the more prescriptions you have going on and the more potential risk that patients will use it themselves for a purpose it wasn't it intended for or divert it to a friend or someone else," said Shatkin. "It's not infrequent that that happens."
"We certainly have a concern about increased misuse and increased diversion," said Fortuna. "The increase in prescribing of controlled medications such as opioids, stimulants and sedatives in and of itself is not necessarily bad as long as they're being used appropriately."
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