Beyond The Pain: Opioid Addiction

According to Health and Human Services, almost 50,000 people died from opioid overdose in 2017.

According to Health and Human Services, almost 50,000 people died from opioid overdose in 2017. While that number is staggering, a large portion of these overdoses are from prescription misuse. Considering that over 11 million people misused prescription opioids in the same year, opioid prescriptions pose one of the most significant threats for exposing teenagers to substance dependency.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are substances that trigger opiate receptors in the brain. These receptors release endorphins into the brain helping to relieve stress and increase happiness. There are many types of opioids including prescription pills, heroin, and fentanyl.

Heroin and fentanyl are often consumed by smoking or injecting them. These forms of use are more easily identified as risky behavior. However, what about a drug given to you through a prescription? When prescription opioids are taken responsibly, they help alleviate pain and support recovery from surgery or injury. Misused prescription drugs are a less obvious, quick way to develop a substance abuse disorder.

Signs of Opioid Abuse

Warning signs for opioid abuse can be physical and behavioral. Some of the signs may include:

Slurred speech or mental confusion

A sudden decrease in academic performance or an increase in school absences

Changes in behavior leading to frayed relationships

Possession of unmarked pills or powdered substances

Mood swings, especially when being addressed about substance use

Who Is at Risk?

Many factors influence the risk that someone will use and abuse a substance. While hard drugs like cocaine are still a threat, prescription pills are often the easiest form of opioids for teenagers to gain access to. There are a few common scenarios where teenagers are exposed to opioids:

Dental Procedures: Wisdom teeth grow in during the late teenage years. To avoid crowding and complications, young adults commonly have their wisdom teeth removed. It is not unusual for dentists to prescribe opioids like hydrocodone, codeine, or oxycodone following these procedures.

Sports Injuries: Extracurricular sports are a major part of the high school experience. However, many student-athletes can be left with sports-related injuries like broken bones or torn muscles. To help teenagers manage pain while they recover, doctors may prescribe opioids.

Home Environment: One of the best indicators of someone’s risk of trying substances is the environment in which they were raised. Children exposed to substance abuse in their home are nearly twice as likely to try illicit substances later in life.

What Steps Can Be Taken?

The best way to stop a habit is to prevent it from happening. Consider these steps to avoid exposure:

For pain management prescriptions, ask about non-opioid alternatives like Advil or Tylenol.

Follow the directions of prescriptions exactly. Parents should hold and administer prescriptions.

Store all medications in a safe location where teenagers cannot get to them.

Dispose of unused prescription pills at certified drop locations.

Do not take any pills from friends or peers.

Article Contributors: FOCUS Program and The Addiction Prevention Coalition 

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