What Can I Do to Protect my Kids from Opioid Abuse?
Rates of U.S. children hospitalized for opioid overdoses today is nearly double that of what it was almost 15 years ago. Reports show that 276,000 teens in the U.S. used painkillers for non-medical reasons in 2015, and that 122,000 struggle with painkiller abuse and addiction. Rates of opioid abuse among teens are higher today than ever before since these drugs can be easily accessed in most homes, schools, and communities.
If you’re a parent, it’s understandable you might feel concerned about America’s growing painkiller abuse rates and how they might affect your children. Opioids kill an estimated 115 Americans every day, and are estimated to kill thousands more over the next decade. But taking steps today to educate your children about the dangers of opioids can help them stay safe, and prevent them from suffering opioid addiction or a deadly overdose.
Here’s what you need to know about teen drug abuse, and what you can do to keep your kids safe from the ongoing nationwide opioid epidemic.
Opioid Abuse Among Teenagers
An estimated 8% of U.S. teens report using prescription opioids for non-medical reasons — the majority of which used opioids for legitimate medical reasons prior to painkiller abuse. When teens use opioids for non-medical reasons, their risk for developing a substance use disorder by the age of 35 becomes significantly higher than that of their peers. Roughly 53% of teens aged 18 and under who abuse painkillers will exhibit at least two symptoms of opioid use disorder by the time they turn 35.
Teens abuse painkillers for a number of reasons, such as peer pressure, to achieve euphoria, or to mask symptoms of mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. Environment is also a driving factor behind teen drug abuse — especially when parents and siblings face their own struggles with addiction, or store their opioids in places that can be easily accessed by relatives. A recent study says that the majority of children being hospitalized for opioid overdoses had obtained the pills from their parents.
Being aware of common factors that lead to opioid abuse among teenagers can allow you to foster a healthier home environment, and keep your kids safe from addiction.
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What You Can Do to Protect Kids from Opioid Abuse
As a parent, there are many preventive measures you can take to protect your kids from opioid abuse. Evidence reveals that certain parenting skills can help prevent the onset and progression of drug abuse among kids and teens. These skills include monitoring your children’s behavior, setting limits on serious problem behaviors, and communicating with your children in positive ways.
Here’s a list of actions you can take today to inform your kids about opioids, and keep them safe from opioid abuse.
Educate Your Kids About Opioids
Many youths are unaware of the dangers and risks associated with painkiller abuse. Just like many adults, kids may assume painkillers are safe to use because they’re legal, prescribed by doctors, and accessible in the home. But these common misconceptions are what often lead to opioid addiction and overdose in Americans of all ages.
Invest time in learning all about opioids and how they work so you can help your kids understand the dangers of using these drugs. Explain to your kids why painkillers are highly addictive, and how they can lead to the use of heroin and counterfeit painkillers that are far more potent. Kids who can truly grasp the dangers of opioids are far more likely to steer clear of these drugs and avoid addiction.
Some states require schools to offer opioid education to students. For instance, Maryland is one of the few states required to provide opioid education to kids in grades three through college, and has its schools work closely with county health departments so teachers can receive training to educate kids about opioids. Ask your children’s schools about available opioid education programs aimed at helping your kids avoid drug abuse.
Monitor Your Kids’ Behavior
Knowing what your teens are up to at all times can keep you aware of whether they might be struggling with opioid abuse, or problems that could lead to opioid abuse. You don’t necessarily need to be physically present with your kids at all times, but knowing where they are, who they’re with, and what they’re doing can give you insight into whether they may be at risk. Call your children regularly, come home from running errands earlier than expected, and look for behavioral cues that may indicate whether your kids are experimenting with drugs.
Keep an Open Line of Communication
Trust and open communication between you and your children can help foster a healthy environment where your kids feel comfortable talking about problems like peer pressure, stress, depression, and drug abuse. Allow your kids to speak openly, and listen without passing judgment. Consider sharing your own personal experiences with drug abuse, or stories about people you may know who struggle with addiction. Your children must feel comfortable talking to you about situations in their lives that can lead to painkiller abuse so you can steer them in the right direction.
Keep Prescriptions Out of Reach
When there are prescription opioids in your home, store the medications in a secret location out of reach of small children — such as in a safe or lockbox. Six in every 10 children who overdose on opioids are under the age of five — the majority of whom use their parents’ opioids that are easily within reach, improperly stored, or found in a purse. Always keep your painkillers out of reach to prevent young children from accessing your pills and suffering an accidental overdose.
Properly Dispose of Unused Medications
The overprescribing of opioids in the U.S. has been recognized as a major factor driving the opioid crisis. In 2015, there were 240 million opioid prescriptions dispensed in the U.S., which equates to nearly one for every adult in the general population. People who wind up with leftover painkillers usually end up storing the drugs in their medicine cabinets, or give them away to friends and family — not knowing that the drugs carry such a high risk for abuse and addiction.
A recent survey found that over 50% of adults who abuse opioids do not have a prescription, and obtain the drugs for free from friends and relatives. But disposing of your leftover opioids can prevent loved ones from using the pills and becoming addicted.
Contact your local retail pharmacy, hospital, or law enforcement office to ask about drug take-back events that allow you to bring your leftover pills to collectors registered with the DEA. Authorized drug collectors will safely dispose of your leftover opioids, and prevent them from being tampered with or misused by others. If your community lacks any drug take-back programs, safely dispose of your opioids in the household trash or toilet to prevent them from falling into the hands of children.
Is My Kid Using Opioids?
Opioids are known as painkillers because the drugs bind to receptors in the brain and body that control sensations of pain and pleasure. When used properly, opioids produce effects including pain relief and relaxation. But when used in high amounts or in ways other than directed, painkillers can cause extreme euphoria and heightened effects that increase the risk for stopped breathing and an overdose.
Sometimes it can be difficult to determine whether your child is using opioids, even if you’re an involved, responsible parent. Review the following signs of an opioid high and opioid dependence to determine whether your child needs an intervention or help in the form of professional addiction treatment.
Signs of an Opioid High
People high on opioids will often demonstrate noticeable and uncharacteristic elation and euphoria. They may appear relaxed and drowsy, and nod off to sleep at random times.
Common signs of an opioid high:
- Extremely happy and euphoric behavior
- Drowsiness and sedation
- Constricted pupils
- Inability to stay awake
- Slowed breathing
- Slowed movements and reaction time
If your child uses opioids regularly, or uses the drugs in high doses, they may display additional signs of nausea, vomiting, itching, and mood swings. Your child’s behaviors may also start changing in favor of keeping their painkiller abuse a secret.
Other behavioral signs that may indicate opioid abuse:
- Withdrawing from close friends and relatives
- Lower grades and academic performance
- Spending time with new friends in new places
- Lying and secretive behavior
- Loss of interest in favorite hobbies and activities
- New daily routine
- Increased anxiety and nervousness
- Neglect in hygiene and physical appearance
- Creating fake symptoms to get painkillers
Signs of Opioid Dependence and Addiction
The behaviors surrounding opioid abuse can cause your child to quickly become dependent and addicted to opioids. Opioids are usually only intended for short-term use to treat severe pain. But using opioids long-term can lead to serious physical and psychological health problems that often require professional treatment.
Opioid dependence happens when your child becomes physically dependent on the drugs, and needs them to relieve opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms like sweating, headaches, and vomiting. Opioid addiction, or opioid use disorder, happens when your child becomes not only physically dependent on opioids, but continues to compulsively use opioids even when it leads to negative consequences.
Common signs of opioid dependence and addiction:
- Drug cravings
- Withdrawal symptoms when abruptly stopping opioid use
- Change in sleeping patterns
- Extreme changes in appetite
- Runny nose
- Decreased motivation
- Prioritizing opioid use above all other responsibilities
- Devoting lots of time to obtaining and using opioids
- Unexplained spending and financial problems
- Loss of control over the amount being used
- Loss of control over the frequency of use
- Inability to stop using opioids despite numerous attempts to quit
- Inability to stop using despite awareness of negative effects
- Taking higher doses of opioids for longer than intended
Opioid addiction can greatly interfere with your child’s health, future success, and overall livelihood. But any child, teen, or adult who suffers from opioid abuse can get help at a drug detox center that treats opioid use disorder as a whole, both physically and psychologically.
How to Get Help for a Family Member Dependent on Opioids
Children and loved ones who may be dependent on opioids can benefit from your support and help with finding a treatment center. Opiate and opioid detox centers are located in nearly every city and state to help you and your loved ones safely overcome addiction. Use our drug detox center directory today to locate the nearest treatment center.
Research Your Treatment Options
Before choosing a treatment center for your child, ask about the types of opioids they’re using, and how long they’ve been struggling with opioid dependence. These questions can offer you insight into the severity of your child’s addiction, and the types of treatments they may need to overcome opioid dependence. For example, if your teen has been dependent on opioids for one year, they may benefit most from a 90-day inpatient rehab program that helps them modify negative thoughts and behaviors driving their addiction.
Some treatment centers specialize in teen drug abuse. When researching treatments, ask about therapies geared toward children and teens, and about medications proven safe for treating opioid dependence in children. For instance, buprenorphine can help relieve opioid withdrawal symptoms, but is only approved for use in treating children 16 and older.
Choose Detox as Your First Step
Before your child receives therapy to overcome addictive behaviors, they must first go through drug detox to overcome physical dependence on opioids. A professional drug detox treatment can guide your child safely through opioid withdrawal with a lowered risk for complications.
Withdrawing from opioids at home without medical supervision can be dangerous, and isn’t recommended for a child, since unforeseen complications can sometimes lead to death. But a medical detox or medication-assisted treatment can help your child experience a safer, more comfortable withdrawal and recovery from opioid addiction.
Call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 800-483-2193 to speak with an addiction counselor about nearby drug detox centers that treat painkiller abuse. We’ll discuss your available treatment options, and help you find a detox center devoted to guiding your child safely along the path to improved health and long-term sobriety.