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Talking to Your Teens About Opioids

As a parent, you try to cover all your bases.  You try to feed your children a healthy diet. You teach them to brush their teeth.  You make sure that they get enough sleep.  You help them with school work.  You try to keep them safe. The list goes on an on. But there may be an area where we as parents are falling short.

We may be falling short in communicating to our teens the dangers of opioid use.

What happens when you don’t address the issue with your teens?  Parents who fail to communicate the dangers of opioid use to their teenagers are missing an opportunity to save their children from a life of addiction.“Parents are clueless. Kids know so much more than the parents do. Parents are in denial and they don’t want to think this could happen to them,” Don Wood said. He admitted he was clueless, too, when his son Donnie first started struggling with opioid abuse. “He was so functional. We didn’t know. We didn’t understand addiction. It was a slow spiral downward.” says Don Wood – A father who said he tried everything to help his son, but he may have underestimated the power of his son’s addiction.
Experts believe that parents failing to communicate with teens about the opioid epidemic may actually contribute to the issue.

Most of us want to take the best care of our children and would never want to expose them to harm. How do we remedy this problem?

In an excerpt from an article written by Paul Gaita it states that
The non-profit hospital and healthcare facility corporation, Dignity Health, issued a web-based survey about prescription opioid use to Arizona adults and teenagers. Among the responses they received was the fact that 25% of the teenagers in the poll stated that they had used prescription opioids without a doctor’s consent. Additionally, two-thirds of parents polled in the survey believed that prescription drug abuse is a serious problem among teens—but half of that demographic believed that painkillers were appropriate for sports injuries incurred by their children, while 44% would authorize them for acute or short-term pain. The survey, conducted by Dignity Health and the Barrow Neurological Institute, took place between July 14-31, 2017. Teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18 and parents of teenagers within that age range were the focus of the survey, and responses were drawn from a sample of 313 teens and 201 parents.
Some of the other survey responses regarding opioid use, 56% of teens polled believed that opioid abuse was a serious problem. 64% cited bullying as a greater concern. 85% of parents polled said that they had talked to their kids about bullying, but just two-thirds of parents said that they had talked about opioid use with their children.
“We see teenagers in our emergency room all the time who are suffering from opioid addiction,” said Dr. Sandra Indermuhle, director of Emergency Services at Arizona’s Dignity Health Chandler Regional Hospital. “I believe strongly that one of the keys to preventing these cases is communication. Parents need to let their kids know that this is a problem in the community and that it is very dangerous.”

How Can I Prevent My Child From Using Opioids?

There is no magic bullet for preventing teen drug use. But research shows parents have a big influence on their teens, even when it doesn’t seem that way.
Given the stakes and the ongoing crisis, parents need to be proactive and talk calmly and honestly with their kids about the dangers of opioid abuse.  Talk openly with your teens and stay actively engaged in their lives. Here are some talking points to help you effectively communicate the danger of opioid use:

Discuss the Proper and Improper Use of Prescription Drugs.

Explain to children and adolescents that prescription opioids can be medically appropriate to treat the pain from serious injuries such as broken bones or from diseases like cancer, says Dr. Scott Hadland, a pediatrician and adolescent medicine and addiction specialist at Boston Medical Center. Opiates like oxycodone, Percocet, and Vicodin work wonders to help recover from a surgery, but the newest recommendations from pain specialists generally agree they should not be taken for longer than 8 days in most cases.
Parents can explain to their kids that they should never take medication that was not prescribed specifically for them, says Beth Kane-Davidson, director of the Addiction Treatment Center at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. “Be sure that they know that taking another person’s prescription or sharing their prescription with someone else is illegal,” she says.

Discuss How Opioids Can Be Addictive.

People often have trouble stopping use of an opioid when they want to, even though it is having a negative impact on their lives. Discuss how Opioids can not only cause addiction but can lead to death.  In 2015, drug overdoses driven by opioids were the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, with 20,101 fatal overdoses related to prescription painkillers. (Opioid overdose deaths include fatalities connected to the use of legal prescription pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and fentanyl.) In addition, there were 12,990 heroin overdose deaths, according to ASAM.

Discuss How Opioids Are Unsafe If You’re Behind The Wheel.

Opioids impair judgment and many other skills needed for safe driving: alertness, concentration, coordination, and reaction time. Oxycodone or heroin use makes it difficult to judge distances and react to signals and sounds on the road.

“Did you know that you can lose your driver’s license from driving while using prescription drugs?”

All opiates are classified as central nervous system depressants, which means they slow down the functioning of the entire body, from the brain to every nerve in the body. That doesn’t help when someone is operating any sort of machinery, and much less driving a vehicle.

Talk About Gateway Drugs

Unfortunately, with the fairly recent tsunami of the medical marijuana and legal cannabis industry, a whole new discussion can be held about gateway drugs.

Did you know that 80% of today’s heroin users started with prescription opiates?”

The fact of the matter is, alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco introduce young people to a whole new lifestyle. The idea behind gateway drugs is that using a mind-altering substance:

  • Is cool
  • Makes you attractive to the opposite sex
  • Helps you too feel better if you’re feeling awkward in a social situation

Of course, not all of these ideas are necessarily talked directly about when teens are spending time with their peers. They are mostly subconscious. The sad thing is, many young people quickly progress from cigarettes, marijuana or beer to other chemicals. Before long, it’s not that much of a leap from smoking a marijuana joint to smoking methamphetamine, or from drinking a beer to hard liquor. In a short amount of time, tolerance to those substances can take effect, and cause young people to seek new ways to feel good.

Even If Other Young People Seem to Be Fine, There Are Serious Consequences to Opiate Use

Substance abuse while you are young really can affect the rest of your life. Experienced behavioral health professionals have all met young people whose brains have been permanently damaged from one time they used hallucinogens like LSD. There are also thousands of other cases when young people have been injured from driving during a blackout caused by Xanax, prescription painkillers or marijuana.

Addiction develops very quickly for many people. Although use of prescription opiates tends to be minimized because they are so easy to access (like the family medicine cabinet), once a habit begins to form, there isn’t a major difference in the way addiction progresses between oxycodone and illegal opiates like heroin or synthetic fentanyl.

It’s not too late to talk to your children.  

Given the danger and peril of opiate addiction it is extremely important that we attempt to prevent this in our children’s lives. Parents have the power to help – and talking to their children is an important first step.
For more information, Life Transformation Recovery offers advice on how to confront children about suspected drug use, as well as additional resources to help parents navigate getting children help with a substance use disorder.  Contact us today to get more information or helpful resources.

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