Drug overdoses are a leading cause of
unintentional death in the United States, and opioids are a major force behind these deaths. All ages and communities are affected by opioid addiction.
Opioid overdoses have been growing worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 40 states have seen rising deaths from opioids. Some of these deaths are from an illicit form of a powerful prescription drug called fentanyl. The rapid increase in deaths from
these synthetic opioids is especially alarming.
Treating and preventing opioid use disorder is a responsibility we all must share. Here's why it is now more important than ever for families to have access to the care they need, including help with drug addiction.
What are opioids?
Opioids are a category of highly addictive narcotic substances that include prescription pain medicine and illicit opioids like heroin. They are products, or synthetic versions, of the opium produced in small amounts by poppy plants. Large doses can slow body's heart and breathing rate to the point of stopping completely.
Killing more than pain
According to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 128 people in the United States die every day from an opioid overdose. Prescription opioids are found in millions of households across the country. In fact, the U.S. consumes the majority of the world's prescription opioid supply. According to the CDC, there have been more opioid
prescriptions reported in some states than there are people living in those states.
How opioid use can lead to addiction
Opioids produce short-term positive feelings by mimicking the body's natural endorphins. In addition to decreasing pain, many experience a “rush" or “high," while others feel improved mood, and/or reduced anxiety or stress. These effects are short-lived, and with continued use, people quickly develop tolerance to opioids, needing higher doses to try to reach the same effects. When they stop using, they may experience withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, sweating, and flu-like symptoms. When this happens, people's opioid use shifts to focus on relieving and preventing withdrawal.
For many people who develop addiction to prescription opioids, when their prescription runs out, they may start buying drugs from dealers or turn to another opioid — heroin. Studies show four out of five new individuals using heroin started by prescription painkillers for nonmedical purposes.
Prescription Pain Medicine & Heroin: The Link Parents Need to Know for more information.
The opioid epidemic's effect on children & teens
Addiction doesn't care. Addiction harms children and teens in many ways. Families may be broken apart when a parent is arrested and sent to
jail for buying or selling opioids. Parents who develop addiction may become unable to prioritize the needs of their family and children. Heartbreaking news describe tragic examples of babies who died of thirst or starvation, for example, after their parents
Prenatal exposure. Babies exposed to opioids during pregnancy can be born with neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS). Federal reports show that a baby with NOWS or neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) was born every 15 minutes. Facing lengthy hospital stays, babies with NOWS are more likely to have low birthweight, trouble breathing and eating, seizures and tremors, and can experience long-term problems with learning and behavior. Doctors encourage pregnant mothers who use opioids to reach out for treatment and recovery care and services and ask them for help.
Poisoning and overdose. Children and teens hospitalized for opioid poisoning tripled between 1997 and 2012. Most of the overdose patients were teens, but the largest increase in
poisonings was among toddlers and preschoolers. According to one study, children whose mothers are prescribed opioids face a much higher risk for unintentional overdose compared to children whose mothers received a non-opioid prescription, such as ibuprofen, for pain.
What can parents do?
Talk to your kids. Tell your children about how dangerous opioid drugs can be, and why it's important to use them only--and exactly--as prescribed. Children who learn about the risks of drugs at home are less likely to use drugs than those who don't learn this at home. Make sure they understand that it is illegal to share opioid medications. More than half of individuals 12 and older who used pain relievers nonmedically said they were given by, bought from, or taken from a friend or family member.
safely. Keep opioids and other prescription medicine up and away in a
secure place. Count and monitor the number of pills you have and lock them up. Do not allow your child or teen unsupervised access to these medications. Never let your child take
someone else's prescription medication.
Dispose leftover prescription medication. Return leftover prescriptions to a hospital, doctor's office, or pharmacy. Many communities offer "take-back" events to collect unused prescription medications.
Use only when nothing else works. If your child has a surgical procedure, you may be concerned about how to help your child
manage pain and discomfort. If your doctor has prescribed a pain reliever that contains an opioid, it is important to
monitor your child's use of it. It should be taken exactly as prescribed, and for the shortest time necessary.
Consider the alternatives. Many people believe opioids work best for pain, but recent studies show that non-opioid medicines such as ibuprofen and naproxen, as well as non-medical approaches can be just as effective. Your doctor may suggest trying certain complementary and alternative treatments—such as acupuncture—as a first step for treating and managing chronic pain.
Ask for help. If you think you or your child may be using opioids nonmedically, or developing addiction, don't hesitate to seek help. Opioid use disorder is a chronic, treatable condition that can be managed successfully with medication and recovery support services. Your child's pediatrician can explain treatment and resources available for teen and young adult patients with opioid use disorders, or provide referrals to other providers who can help. Similar treatment is available for pregnant individuals with opioid addiction, as part of a comprehensive public health approach.
Know what to do in an overdose emergency. Ask your pediatrician about
naloxone, which can prevent opioid overdose deaths. Learn the signs of a possible overdose, such as, difficulty and shallow breathing, severe sleepiness, and not being able to wake up. Always call 911 if you believe someone is experiencing an overdose, even if you give them Naloxone. Know that in many states, Good Samaritan laws provide legal protection to people acting to help someone who has overdosed.