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February 04, 2019

Deadlier than Car Accidents: What Parents Need to Know About Opioids  

Joyce Knestrick, PhD, CRNP, FAANP

The opioid epidemic has been escalating for a while now, and more and more parents are finding themselves in the middle of an unexpected crisis. In January it was announced that, for the first time ever, opioid overdoses surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death, which means parents have a lot more to worry about than whether their child has their driver’s license.   

Opioid abuse is a tough concept for parents to grasp, in part because it wasn’t really an issue when they were teens. The epidemic was born in the last 20 years, and the number of deaths from opioid overdoses has more than tripled in that short time. Today, 54 million people over the age of 12 have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons, and in 2017, more than 1.7 million people struggled with an opioid abuse disorder. The fast and furious nature of the opioid epidemic has really caught a lot of parents off guard.  

While it may be difficult to instinctively see opioid abuse as an adolescent problem, there’s no denying it’s hitting this demographic hard. Between 1999 and 2015, the rate of drug overdose deaths for 15- to 19-year-olds more than doubled. Moreover, 40 percent of opioid deaths involved prescription painkillers, which, because they are prescribed by a provider and manufactured by a pharmaceutical company, are seen by teens as being safer than other drugs. Not surprisingly, prescription drugs are the second-most abused category of drugs, behind marijuana.  

If opioids haven’t been on your parental radar, it’s not too late to get up to speed. Here are five things parents should know about opioids, and five things they should do to keep their teen from becoming hooked on these dangerous drugs.    

  1. Opioid abuse is a problem for teens. One in nine youths have misused prescription drugs in the last year.  
  2. Finding opioids is easier than you may think. As much as 40 percent of prescribed medications sit in home medicine cabinets unused. 
  3. Teens usually get opioids from people they know. Two out of three teens who misuse pain relievers take them from a family member or a friend.  
  4. Opioids can lead to other problems. Seven out of 10 teen users combine opioid medication with alcohol or other drugs, which makes overdosing more likely.  
  5. Even legitimate prescriptions can lead to abuse. It’s important to talk to your health care provider to understand the potential benefits and risks of opioids prescribed to you and your family. Work with your provider to closely monitor usage.

Don’t leave your teen’s opioid use up to chance. Here are five things parents should do to help prevent their child from misusing prescription medication.  

  1. Talk to your teen about the dangers of opioids.  
  2. Store prescriptions in a locked cabinet or container.  
  3. Dispose of medications that are no longer needed.  
  4. If your teen is prescribed an opioid painkiller, talk with the provider about precautions, supervise all use, don’t allow your teen to take it longer than needed (or prescribed) and monitor them for signs of dependency.
  5. Seek help if you suspect your child is abusing prescription drugs. Talk to your provider, who may refer you to a substance abuse specialist for help.

The opioid crisis has swept our nation, and it’s been particularly hard on young people. The good news is the tide is shifting, and opioid use among adolescents is declining, largely because parents, providers, school administrators and others are taking a more active role in combating the problem. If you haven’t been proactive in preventing opioid abuse in your house, it’s not too late. Your involvement can help prevent addiction, and may even save your teen’s life.