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The Opioid Epidemic: How to Protect Your Family

An opioid is a drug derived from the opium extracted from poppies or a synthetic version of it. Various types of opioids exist, such as prescription painkillers and heroin. Generally, they are easily accessed due to the fact that they are often prescribed after surgery or to help manage pain. As such, children and teenagers could obtain opioids from family members who have them stored in medicine cabinets. As the opioid crisis grows, it is becoming increasingly important to ensure your teenager doesn't abuse these powerful drugs.

Statistics On The Opioid Epidemic & Teens

There’s no denying that our country is being devastated by the opioid epidemic. The CDC reports that the number of drug overdose deaths increased by nearly 5% from 2018 to 2019 and has quadrupled since 1999. In 2019, an opioid-related overdose killed 70,630 people. Between 2018 and 2019, opioid-related deaths increased significantly:

  • Opioid-involved death rates increased by over 6%.

  • Prescription opioid-involved death rates decreased by nearly 7%.

  • Heroin-involved death rates decreased by over 6%.

  • Synthetic opioid-involved death rates (excluding methadone) increased by over 15%.

Here’s how the opioid epidemic is impacting teenagers specificaly.

What Can Parents Do To Protect Their Family?

We must protect our teens from the harmful effects of opioid abuse. But, how? Well, here are the top six suggestions on how to protect your family from the opioid epidemic.

1. Proper medication storage and disposal.

A large majority of teens, roughly 70%, get their pain medication from people they know, such as friends, family, or the medicine cabinet in their bathrooms. With that in mind, the first step is to keep medications in a safe place and be aware of what drugs are being stored throughout the house.

You also should keep an inventory of the prescription medications within your home if they are not locked up. Again, most teenagers obtain opioids from friends or family, so it is impossible to monitor them for loss without knowing how many pills you have.

Additionally, make sure that any unused opioid medications are disposed of safely.

Your teen and their friends will have fewer chances of abusing these drugs if you do this.

And, do not flush medicine down the toilet or pour it down the drain unless it says otherwise on the packaging. Expiring or leftover prescriptions can often be returned to hospitals, doctors' offices, or pharmacies for proper disposal.

2. Have honest conversations with your teens.

In order to prevent opioid abuse among teens, parents and caregivers must have an honest discussion about the consequences of opioid abuse. Because these medications are legal and prescribed by doctors, teens might think they are safe. It can, however, be deadly to take someone else's medications, take more than prescribed, or mix them with other medications.

Also, nearly half of young people who use heroin have misused and become addicted to prescription opioids. Teenagers may turn to heroin since it is cheaper and more affordable as a cheaper alternative to prescription drugs when they repeatedly misuse them.

Due to the addition of fentanyl, a powerful and deadly synthetic opioid, to prescription drugs and heroin, the risk of overdose and death is even higher in this epidemic. Some teens mistake fentanyl for a prescription drug, believing it is safe. Teens should be warned of these risks that could be fatal.

3. Consider the alternatives.

Opioids are often regarded as the most effective painkillers. Studies have shown, however, that non-opioid medicines such as ibuprofen and naproxen and non-medical approaches, can equally be helpful. For managing chronic pain, some doctors may recommend complementary and alternative treatments, such as acupuncture.

In the event that your teen receives opioid pain medication following an injury or surgery, speak to the doctor about its risks of addiction, appropriate use, and how long they will have to take it. Typically, after an injury or surgery, your teenager won't need opioids after a few days unless they are in the hospital. These days, many doctors no longer write 30-day refillable prescriptions for these reasons.

If you suspect that your teen is misusing or becoming addicted to medications, be sure to contact your teen's doctor immediately. The best way to prevent addiction is to get help early.

4. Set a positive example.

Teenagers tend to mimic their parents' behavior. In fact, studies have suggested that teens who have opioid-abusing parents are more likely to abuse prescription opioids as well.

In order to reduce the likelihood of teens abusing opioids, parents should address their addictions in order to reduce the risk.

5. Have an emergency plan in place.

You should be aware of the signs of a possible overdose, such as difficulty breathing, sleepiness, and inability to wake up. Dial 911 at the first sign of difficulty breathing in your teen. By tilting their head back, pinching their nose shut, and giving them one slow breath every 5 seconds, you can also perform rescue breathing. Provide comfort and support until paramedics arrive.

Also, you can ask your teen's primary care provider about Naloxone, an opioid antagonist that prevents overdoses by counteracting the effects of opioids. You can administer Naloxone to your teen if you suspect he or she is experiencing an overdose. And, also call 911 immediately if you suspect an overdose is occurring.

6. Ask for help.

Please don't hesitate to seek help if you or your child are using opioids non-medically, or you believe they have developed an addiction.

With the right medication and recovery support services, opioid use disorder can be managed effectively. Teens and young adults with opioid use disorders can receive treatment and resources through their pediatrician, or other professionals can provide referrals. In addition to comprehensive public health approaches, pregnant women with opioid addiction can receive similar treatment.

Additional resources.

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