When I was growing up, teens drank beer and smoked weed, but hard drugs like heroine were uncool and uncommon. Basically, if it went up our nose or required needles we stayed away.

So when stories of opiate addiction and overdose started to become the norm, I was shocked. That had never been the culture in our affluent beach town community.

Having struggled with chronic back pain for over ten years, I have always felt so blessed to have avoided addiction to my prescriptions drugs, eventually healing my body and removing them from my life entirely.

Unfortunately, to date, I have lost three friends to opiate overdoses. All of these friends started with prescriptions they needed for acute injuries and failed to bounce back.

Sadder still, our community is not alone.

The Opiate Epidemic

In recent years more and more cases of opiate addiction have been reported. To the extent that opiate addiction in the U.S. is now being called a public health crisis and qualifies as an epidemic with 200,000 cases reported each year.

This topic first started to gain public attention in 2015 when opioid addiction was responsible for 33,091 deaths. Now in 2017, these tragic numbers continue to climb.

The Stigma and The Truth

When you think of an opium addict you probably image a disheveled needle wielding heroine addict, sleeping on the street, unbathed, unfeed, committing crimes or panhandling to get money to buy more drugs.

While this is not completely unfounded, individuals this far down the rabbit hole of addiction have likely been struggling for years and are lucky to be alive.

In order to protect your children, it is important to have a more holistic understanding of who is vulnerable, how addiction evolves, and the warning signs.

Who

Those who report opiate addiction range in age from 19-60 years.

Keep in mind that this age range reflects the age of people reporting addiction versus the age of people experiencing addiction. While chemical addictions like opiate addiction can form rather quickly, it often takes years for the truly devastating effects to set in. If someone is exhibiting noticeable signs of addiction at age 19, they likely began their relationship with opiates at a younger age. In other words, your kids are at risk.

Studies reveal that:

  • “In 2015, 276,000 adolescents were current nonmedical users of pain reliever, with 122,000 having an addiction to prescription pain relievers.”

Of the 33,091 opioid related deaths in 2015 mentioned above, 20,101 were the result of prescription pain relievers, while only 12,990 deaths were tied to black market heroin.

This suggests that many individuals struggling with opiate addiction started as patients under a doctor’s care.

Getting prescriptions under a doctor’s care more often than not requires money to pay for insurance and money to fill prescriptions. Unlike the original heroin epidemic, which plagued lower-income communities, today’s prescription opiate epidemic is impacting higher-income communities.

Also consider how easily teens can gain access to their parents’ prescriptions. All they have to do is open the medicine cabinet. As a result, it can be easier for teens to get access to prescriptions meds than alcohol or marijuana.

Studies show that “Most adolescents who misuse prescription pain relievers are given them for free by a friend or relative.”

Evolution of Addiction

Opioids are commonly prescribed and appropriate for the treatment of acute pain.

“Acute pain is a type of pain that typically lasts less than 3 to 6 months, or pain that is directly related to soft tissue damage such as a sprained ankle or a paper cut. Acute pain is of short duration … it gradually resolves as the injured tissues heal.”

With continued use, the body develops a tolerance to the drug and a healthy dosage no longer masks pain.

To make matters worse the body can develop a dependence in as little as two weeks. Once the body develops this type of dependence it can be hard and even dangerous to stop taking the drugs. Withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Nausea
  • Muscle cramping
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Opiate cravings

Protecting Your Children

At the end of the day, you are your child’s best defense against opiate addiction.

Data collected by the American Society of Addiction Medicine reveals that, “The prescribing rates for prescription opioids among adolescents and young adults nearly doubled from 1994 to 2007.”

Use these tips to protect your child.

  1. If your family doctor, or any specialist treating your child, suggests a prescription for an opiate, challenge this recommendation to ensure it is absolutely necessary and the only option.
  2. Talk to your kids about the risks they take when consuming these drugs. Don’t wait until they have been prescribed these meds to have this conversation. Make sure they understand the symptoms of opiate addiction, which include uncontrollable cravings, inability to control opioid use, excessive sweating, mood swings, chronic constipation, small pupils, nausea, shallow breathing, and slurred speech.
  3. Keep all prescription opiates under lock and key. You likely wouldn’t leave your kids home alone with uninhibited access to alcohol. This is no different.
  4. Avoid self administration. Even if the opiate prescription has been written for an adult in the family, it can’t hurt to have another adult keeping an eye on how frequently and in what amount these drugs are being taken.
  5. If and when your child is prescribed opiates, administer less than recommended. Opiates are not like antibiotics. You don’t have to take them every 3-6 hours for the full duration of a prescription in order for the drug to have the desired effect. In fact, less is more. The instructions on the bottle are designed to prevent overdose not protect against addiction. It’s hard to see your kids in pain, but consider that mild to moderate pain now beats addiction later.

Treatment

Treatment options vary but will include discontinuing use of the drug. While medications such as methadone can help alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal and curb cravings, pairing medication with inpatient or support programs generally has the most success.

If your child is living with chronic pain it’s also important to move away from symptomatic treatment options such as opiate and seek the support of pain management specialists. Chronic pain, unlike acute pain, can have psychological, dietary, and lifestyle origins. Working with a skilled team of pain management professionals to target the cause versus treat the symptoms can be daunting, but it could also save your child’s life.

Resources

If you or someone you love is struggling with opiate addiction seek professional help now.

Opiate Addiction Support is a website where you can locate the best resources in your geographical area

Additionally, the Rich Legacy team is here to support your family. Don’t hesitate to reach out. We would be honored to help you identify the perfect resources for you and your family.

Author Bio

Charlie Birch is a Co-Founder and the Director of Program Development at Rebel + Connect a company on a mission to celebrate human connection in the digital age! Rebel + Connect offers custom company retreat planning services for remote teams, operates remotely, and services clients from all over the globe. Charlie also dabbles in the sharing economy, rental real estate, freelance writing, healing arts, life coaching, diversity and inclusion consulting, and behavioral modification services. Charlie has a  Bachelor’s Degree in psychology from Goucher College and studied at  Naropa University’s Graduate School of Psychology with a focus on Somatic Psychology. You can connect with Charlie on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.