By Ann Schiebert, Psy.D.

girl on bed taking pills

Almost every day we hear about deaths caused by overdoses of opiates or opioid. (The word opioid include opiates.) The statistics for the general population are increasingly alarming as we watch the numbers of opioid deaths grow: in 2015 over 33,000 people were killed by opioids and current preliminary data indicates that more than 53,000 died in 2016 due to overdoses. In October 2017, over72,000 died from some form of opioid use. The statistics are so alarming that the opioid problem was declared a national epidemic!

Lest we think that the opioid problem mainly affects adults, let’s consider the deaths of teens and young adults from opioids. In 2016, 10.9 percent of adolescents and young adults aged 12 – 25 reported misusing opioids over the past year. Between 2014 and 2015 opioid deaths increased 15 percent for males and between 2013 and 2015 they increased 35 percent for females. Most of these deaths were unintentional.

What can we do about this? Here are three suggestions:

  1. Keep your teen from taking opioids unless it cannot be avoided medically.
  2. Know the latest “party” trends and signs of opioid abuse.
  3. Make a contract with your teen about how to manage pain and resist teen trends.

Keep Your Teen from Prescription Opioid Use Unless
It Cannot Be Avoided Medically

Research from the University of Michigan found that legitimate use of opioids (prescribed and taken as directed) that were taken before or during the 12th grade by adolescents who had little drug experience and who disapproved of illegal drug use including marijuana, predicts future opioid misuse after high school! This study’s further findings discovered that those who legitimately take opioids by 12th grade were 33 percent more likely to misuse prescription opioids after high school by age 23 than those with no history of an opioid prescription.

These are astonishing findings that warn us about the power of what I call the “opioid quicksand effect.” By this I mean that opioids can hijack the brain without us even knowing it. They can lure us into dependency. We parents and caregivers must find a different way to help our adolescents with pain. We need to talk about physical pain with our children and reframe how we treat each of these. Did you know that researchers have found that nonaddictive, over-the-counter drugs relieved pain just as well (and in some cases better) as a trio of opioid pain medications widely prescribed for pain?

Do away with the belief that pills not skills are the most effective treatment for pain. Find other ways to help your adolescent deal with aches and pain. Explore alternatives such as biochemical balancing, nutritional supplements, Yoga, Tai Chi, acupressure, Qigong, Reiki, chiropractic care, massage, physical therapy, Exercise Physiology, Hydrotherapy, Feldenkrais, and many more.

Know the Latest “Party” Trends and Signs of Opioid Abuse

Keep on top of the latest trends in adolescent and college student life. Two of the popular current way’s teens and young adults use, get high or get hooked on opioids are through Sharing and Pill Parties. Sharing is about giving opioids to others to help them relieve pain, or get high or feel good or as an expression of empathy. Pill parties involve bringing lots of prescription medication that is obtained by raiding the medicine cabinets of one’s parents or grandparents, going to open houses and stealing medications from the sellers, etc. Teens trade the pills with each other and often mix them with alcohol. These are deadly practices.

So many of us parents wake up after our loved one has experienced life-changing dreadful consequences from their opioid use, abuse and addiction. Get ahead of the trends and save a life. Pre-empt your teen’s temptations. Pre-empt any peer pressure. Pre-empt group thinking. Remember that encouragement from your teen’s peers to “try” something new originates in the same type of developmentally immature brain that your teen has. Who would follow that? It is incapable of wisdom and forethought.

Be “on guard!” Memorize the signs of opioid abuse such as repeated failure to fulfill work, home or school obligations, withdrawal from social, occupational or recreational activities, personality changes such as irritability, unaccountable depletion of finances, sedation and disrupted sleep patterns, acting recklessly, depression and labile emotions.

Memorize the signs of withdrawals such as tearing up, muscle aches, agitation, trouble falling and staying asleep, excessive yawning, anxiety, runny nose, sweats, racing heart, fever, difficulty focusing on tasks, concentrating and making decisions.

Make A Contract with Your Teen About How to Manage Pain and Resist Teen Trends

Learn how to make a contract with your teen or young adult so they will know the family expectations about opioid use, pain management and opioid use teen trends. The idea might seem easy, but making a meaningful contract can be challenging. It needs to be creative. It needs to be meaningful to your teen. It needs to be short. Start with a conversation like:

Mom: I’ve been hearing about some of the opioid games that have been going on in various high schools (colleges) and I’m going to be making a contract for our family about this topic. I want us to be on the same page, and taking opioids can be very dangerous.

Typical response from teen son or daughter: Whatever. Mom:

Mom: Well, what I have been hearing about the dangerousness of opioid use is really scary, so I’d feel I was being a good parent if we had a contract about this. I’m going to work on it and if you have any suggestions about how to make it better, I’d love to discuss them.

Place three horizontal columns on a piece of letter sized paper. Make a header at the top of each column. On the first column write “Guideline.” At the top of second column write “Duties.” At the top of the third column write “Consequences for Breaking Guidelines.”

For example, a guideline could be, “Our family uses Aleve, Ibuprofen, or Tylenol for treatment of non-emergency pain. When in pain, take one of these tablets as directed.” In the “Duties” column we might put, “To comply with the family practice that treatment for non-emergency pain will be Aleve, Ibuprofen or Tylenol.” In the third emergency, then teen and mom will attend a lecture – read a book together – have a discussion with their physician, minister etc. about opioid use, its dangers and its addictive qualities.” (Usually, teens hate to go to lectures, read books, etc. with their parent(s), so while this might sound like a “lame” consequence, it is one that a teen might do anything to avoid.

In the same contract, one can address the opioid games. Column one—Guidelines: “It is our family value that we do not abuse opioids and we do not participate in teen parties where they are being used.” Column two—Duties: “To not participate in such dangerous games and to not take pills from anyone other than your physician or parents.” Column three—Consequences for Breaking Guidelines: “Attend a Pills Anonymous group with a parent.” Again, consequences can be kind and outside the box. Education is a great consequence.

Your teen/young adult does not have to agree with or sign the contract although having them join in creating it and having all family members sign it can increase family happiness, cooperation and mutual respect. In my experience with hundreds of patients, I know that contracts work. Protect your teen from opioid use, abuse, addiction. Talk about it. Express your concerns about opioid use in our culture. You don’t have to make it personal. Save a life. Make a contract.

References Provided Upon Request

Dr. Ann Schiebert has spent the last 21 years treating adolescents, young adults and adults in the area of chemical dependency, trauma, codependency, relationship challenges and family reconstruction. She works in the mental health clinic and the emergency department of a major HMO.

Ann is the host of Dr. Ann’s Relationship Radio Show on America’s Web Radio, which provides information and helps listeners create new ways of meeting relationship challenges.

Ann has penned a series of books titled Let’s Make a Contract. She has four in the series thus far:

Getting Your Teen Through Substance Abuse

Getting Your Teen Through High School and Beyond

Getting Through Unhappy Romantic Relationships

Getting Your Teen Past the Opioid Epidemic