Parents are inundated with information at the start of the school year about how to help their kids succeed. Much of it centers on building the perfect college application, how to get your kids to be perfect students, or alarmist messages about the dangers of much-loved food items and common, everyday products — warnings which are out of proportion with reality. But here's an issue on which parents should get the facts: opioid addiction.
This might not seem like a real concern for parents who feel like their kids are unlikely to have access to a black market of illegal drugs, but opioid abuse can grow out of a legitimate prescription for a sports injury. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, in 2016, approximately 3.6 percent of kids aged 12 to 17 reported misusing opioid medication and that older adolescents and young adults aged 18-25 misuse at a much higher percentage than younger adolescents.
This is a growing problem: A recent study published in the medical journal Pediatrics found that hospitalizations of adolescents aged 12-17 due to opioid overdose has doubled since 2004. While the researchers concluded that many of these hospitalizations happened after a younger child stumbled upon and ingested an adult’s prescription medication, teens and young adults are still at risk for abuse and addiction.
While the vast majority of teens with sports injuries recover and do not become addicted to pain medications, some do. When the prescription runs out, they turn to illegal means to obtain opioids. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five teens experiments with prescription drugs at some point. Yet most teens do not obtain the drugs from drug dealers or the dark web, but instead from friends and family, who have old pain medications sitting in closets and bathroom vanities.
Opioid abuse is often coupled with other substance abuse problems: According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, teens often mix prescription medications, like opioids, with alcohol and/or other drugs, which puts them at a much higher risk of overdose. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the rate of overdose deaths among adolescents is increasing and of all the drug overdose deaths among adolescents aged 15–19 in 2015, about eight in ten were unintentional. These tragic consequences demand a solution.
Of course, opioids do serve an important purpose for adolescent and young adults recovering from injuries. Doctors should continue to provide these medications when needed. Yet in the urgency to curb this problem and reduce opioid addition, what’s often left out of policy discussions is how parents can play an important role in not only helping their opioid-addicted child, but in preventing the addiction from happening in the first place.
First, parents need to know the signs of opioid abuse. HHS lists a series of signs, including drowsiness and mood changes, which to many parents might seem like any normal day living with teens. But other signs, like constipation, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, dry mouth, headaches, and unusual sweating are signs parents should consider. Parents also need to set standards. Studies of teen behaviors also show that when parents make clear that they disapprove of drug use, teens are far less likely to use. It’s also important that parents set a good example. Parents who use drugs or abuse alcohol are more likely to have teens who do the same.
Today, parents are told to be afraid of just about everything. And while parents should roll their eyes at warnings about letting your kid walk alone to school, cereal is toxic, straws are polluting the world’s oceans, and that video games are making little felons out of every game-loving child, parents must not forget that there are real and mounting dangers out there facing our kids. Opioid abuse is one, and parents are key to solving the problem.