You have probably heard a lot about the opioid crisis in the news lately. But what are opioids, and what do they have to do with you as the parent of a teenager?
If your child has had a sports injury, dental work, or surgery, it is possible that he or she was prescribed a pain reliever that contained an opioid. Opioids can be very effective at reducing severe pain in the short term, such as after surgery, but they can be very addictive, especially if they are misused.
Children and adolescents are at greater risk than adults of becoming addicted when exposed to drugs. Particularly when used in treating children or adolescents, opioids should only be taken to manage severe pain, when no other pain medicine works, and for the shortest time necessary—and most importantly, only while under the careful watch of a trained health care provider.
In addition to opioids prescribed for treating pain, there are powerful opioids sold on the street and used solely to get high, including heroin and illicit fentanyl. These are also highly addictive. All opioids—particularly when misused to get high, when combined with other drugs like alcohol or tranquilizers, or when used for pain without proper medical supervision—can result in deadly overdoses.
While opioid misuse in teens has been going down, the rate of opioid misuse increases significantly after the age of 18, so it is critical to talk with teens early and frequently to protect them from experimenting with opioids as they transition into adulthood. Talking to your kids about drugs may not be easy, but it is important.
Here at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), we developed this guide to help parents talk with their kids. We also have a companion book, Opioid Facts for Teens, that you can share. Sometimes, just beginning the conversation is the hardest part. I hope these booklets can help.
Nora D. Volkow, M.D.
Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse