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The number of annual deaths related to opioid use in Massachusetts more than quadrupled between 2000 and 2015, according to the Department of Public Health (DPH). Parents should be aware that young people are at high risk of becoming involved in this fatal epidemic. According to DPH and the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics, opioids were responsible for more than a quarter of all deaths in the 1824 age group from 20132014.

With resources from DPH, start a discussion about opioid misuse with your children.

Young People and the Road to Addiction

Young people may be prescribed painkillers to help deal with pain from sports injuries or surgeries. If your child has serious pain, you and the physician should explore alternatives before opioids are prescribed. Commonly misused opioids include prescription painkillers like Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, and Codeine.

Prescription painkillers can be dangerous if misused, and some people who misuse painkillers turn to heroin as an alternative. In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Misuse (NIDA), nearly 80 percent of people who use heroin had misused prescription opioids beforehand.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows heroin use among people ages 18–25 has more than doubled during the last decade in the United States. This trend is worrying, as heroin use increases the risk of overdose and contracting diseases, including HIV and hepatitis.

Talking to Your Children

Young people who learn about the dangers of drug use from parents are less likely to try drugs in the future. Although it may seem difficult to start the conversation, it’s important for parents to learn how to talk to adolescents about opioids.

  • Find Out What Your Children Know — Ask your children what they’ve heard about opioids so you can share important information about risks they may not understand.
  • Explain Dangers of Prescription Painkillers — Discuss how OxyContin, Vicodin, and other painkillers can be extremely addictive and may lead to heroin use.
  • Don’t Imply Widespread Use — Avoid implying that opioid misuse is common. If young people believe opioid misuse is normal, they may be more likely to misuse drugs.

If you suspect your child is addicted to opioids, use DPH’s guidelines for talking to your child about a possible prescription drug addiction.

Monitoring Prescription Use

By proactively keeping track of what prescription drugs are in your home or prescribed to your children, you may be able to limit the amount of harmful drugs that they can access.

  • Manage Your Prescriptions — Secure all medications by keeping them locked away. Prescription medication lockboxes are available at many pharmacies. Check on medications regularly, and ask questions if you notice drugs are missing.
  • Control Your Child’s Prescriptions — Give your child or teen the medication yourself. If your child needs to take medication during the day, ask a school nurse or medical professional to give them each dose. Make sure your child understands the laws regarding sharing or selling prescription medication. It is against the law to share a prescription.
  • Dispose of Medications — Dispose of unused prescription drugs safely and responsibly. Some drugs can be turned in to community programs for safe disposal. Find a prescription drug dropbox location near you to turn in leftover or expired medicines.

Recognizing the Warning Signs of Misuse and Addiction

Understanding the signs of opioid misuse can help you recognize addiction in young people. There are many physical signs, such as fatigue, confusion, weakness, and flushing of the face and neck. However, you should also know the non-physical signs of painkiller misuse.

  • Medication Disappearing from Your Home — Empty bottles in the trash or missing pills and prescription bottles
  • Missing Valuables or Cash — Changes in your teen’s finances or money, or expensive objects missing from your home
  • Change in Personality — Loss of interest in hobbies and activities, withdrawal from friends, increased irritability, and hostility toward friends and family
  • Shifts in Behavior — Changing sleep patterns and hygiene routines and secretive behavior

Seeking Help for Opioid Addiction

Contact a health care professional, a school social worker, or a guidance or substance misuse counselor to find help if your child is addicted to opioids. There are also helplines and online resources to guide and support you through the recovery and treatment process.

Combatting the Epidemic

DPH worked with the Massachusetts Office of Information Technology (MassIT) and a variety of public and private agencies to create a data visualization of the state’s Chapter 55 report on the opioid epidemic. Explore the report to learn about addiction, how young people transition from legal to illegal opioid use, and what steps the state is taking to combat the crisis.

In addition, Governor Baker’s Opioid Working Group has outlined recommendations to curb the opioid epidemic, with a focus on schools, young people, and parents. Some initiatives include:

The opioid epidemic has affected countless lives and communities across Massachusetts. By starting an open dialogue with your children, you can educate young people about the dangers of opioid misuse and take steps to end the epidemic.

Have you started the conversation about opioid misuse with your children? Let us know by commenting below or tweeting @MassGov.

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