Elk River Teen Treatment Program

Quarter of Million Adolescents Abused Prescription Drugs in 2015

Almost 25% of users will become addicted to the drug

Teen Drug Overdose Rate Climbs 19% in One Year

August 25, 2017

Huntsville, AL - August 25, 2017 - In the 1990s, prescriptions for opioids in the United States were on the rise. Powerful new drugs like Oxycontin were touted by pharmaceutical companies as being non-addictive and necessary to address various levels of pain. Between 1994 and 2007, the rate of opioid prescriptions for teenagers doubled. Fast forward ten years, and opioid abuse is still a growing problem in the United States. In 2015, an estimated 2 million people in the United States abused prescription painkillers, and over half a million people abused heroin. Deaths from overdose have more than tripled in the past two decades and according to the National Center for Health Statistics, the rate of teen drug overdose deaths in the U.S. climbed 19% from 2014 to 2015.

Teens at Risk for Opioid Addiction

Today there are tighter restrictions on prescription opioids like hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, codeine, and fentanyl. Teens are still at risk due to the increased recreational use of painkillers. In 2015, a quarter of a million adolescents reported that they used painkillers for non-medical purposes.

Residential programs for adolescents and teens like Elk River Treatment Program (ERTP) have experienced an increase in admissions due to abuse of over-the-counter and prescription medications. Some of these children came into contact with prescription medications via a doctor’s prescription after injury or surgery. Others report getting pills from family medicine cabinets or try them for the first time at a party. 

Opioids are extremely addictive because they produce artificial endorphins (hormones secreted within the brain causing an analgesic effect). Over a short period of time a tolerance for the drug is developed and more and more opioids are required to create a similar affect. Users begin crushing, snorting and injecting as they attempt to re-visit the euphoria they first experienced.

Best Defense is Prevention

The best defense against opioid abuse and addiction is to prevent it from starting in the first place. Parents have every right to reject prescriptions of Schedule II Controlled Substances which have a high potential for abuse. They also must lock up or safely discard old prescriptions. Examples of Schedule II narcotics include: hydromorphone (Dilaudid), methadone (Dolophine), meperidine (Demerol), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), and fentanyl (Sublimaze, Duragesic).  Other Schedule II narcotics include: morphine, opium, and codeine.

Because prescription medication may be expensive and difficult to obtain illegally, teens may turn to using heroin, which is more available and cheaper. Heroin is an intensely strong opiate, and according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, almost 25% of users will become addicted to the drug. Heroin abuse in the U.S. has doubled in the last decade, and heroin users are at increased risk of death by overdose or suicide due to depression.

Why are Teens More Vulnerable?

Because teens are most likely to be offered opioids by a friend or relative rather than a drug dealer or stranger, they are likely to trust that the medication is safe. In fact, they are more likely to believe this because it is a prescription drug. Parents are responsible for educating their teens about the reality and risks of opioids and monitoring what medications their teens are prescribed by their doctor. 

Signs of Opioid Addiction in Teens

  • Sudden mood changes
  • Isolation or withdrawal
  • Drowsiness or nodding off
  • Slowed breathing
  • Confusion
  • Lack of interest in school
  • Nausea or vomiting

If you child is demonstrating risky or negative behaviors related to abuse of prescription medication or other substances, call an admission's counselor at Elk River Treatment Program for help. Counselors may direct you to individual counseling or, depending on the severity of the behaviors, may recommend residential placement to assure your child and your family's safety.

How Can I Help My Teen Today?

Be Assertive in the Doctor's Office - If your doctor wants to prescribe opioids to your child, ask about other options. If your teen has a history of substance abuse, be honest with your doctor. Consider how counseling in conjunction with medication may help prevent abuse. If your child is it severe pain and requires opioids for painkillers, ask your doctor if you can limit the prescription to a few days rather than weeks.

Handle Medications Seriously - Prescription medication should be locked up like a firearm or any other potentially dangerous materials in the house. If you are no longer using a medication, dispose of it properly. It is also important to model proper use of your own medication for kids. If they see you lending prescription medication to others, not taking the correct dosage, or taking pills that aren’t prescribed to you, then this teaches them that it is safe to do the same.

Tell the Truth - Sometimes when we hide difficult realities from teens, we do them a disservice. Chances are you know someone who has been affected by the opioid epidemic. Be honest with your teen about how people struggle and how dangerous painkillers can be. Talk to them when you have to make choices about taking painkillers for medical purposes. Point out personal stories online or on the television so that your teen can see how opioid addiction can destroy a person’s life.

If you are a parent and are not sure where to start, simply ask your teen what they know about prescription painkillers or heroin. Never assume what they do or do not know. Ask them if they know anyone affected by the epidemic or what people say at school about prescription medication.  The reality is that when your child feels included in making decisions about their health and happiness, they’re more likely to make smart decisions about their minds and bodies. So start the conversation today, and you might be surprised.