Every day, more than 115 Americans die after overdosing on opioids, including prescription pain relievers, illegal drugs such as heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. These staggering numbers may seem inconceivable, but the truth is opiates—both illegal and prescribed—are highly addictive, and it does not take much time or exposure to them for one to develop a dependency or addiction.
How Do People Get Addicted to Opiates?
New research has determined that there are two primary ways that individuals may become addicted to opioids: Taking prescribed narcotics and exposure to unsecured opioids in the home, particularly among teens and young adults.
Transitioning to Long-Term Dependency
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of becoming dependent, long-term, on opioid use has been shown to increase after only a few days of prescription pain medication use. The report indicated that individuals who use opioids for one day have a 6 percent chance of continuing to use them a year later, a 13 percent chance after eight days, and a 30 percent chance after month-long use.
While many individuals may justly be suffering from acute pain after an illness or injury, many experts argue that physicians are overprescribing painkillers, which gives individuals of all ages the exposure, access, and repeated use needed to form a dependency.
Easy Access to Highly Addictive Painkillers
Researchers, doctors, and advocates are warning parents that adults are not the only ones at risk of opioid addiction and overdose. Children as young as five, preteens, teens, and young adults are all at risk when exposed to painkillers in the home. Research has found that children age five and younger were more likely to encounter opioids through exploratory exposure, while children ages six through 12 were most often exposed due to medication errors that include being given the wrong dosage. Teenagers represent the age group most likely to intentionally misuse opioids recreationally or as a method of self-harm, though often their first exposure is related to medical use. Even more devastating, opioid-related suicide among teenagers increased 53 percent between 2000 and 2015.
How to Protect Your Children from Opioid Exposure
As a parent, whether you have been prescribed painkillers and have them in your home today or not, there are several ways to minimize the risk of your children—no matter their age—having exposure to these highly addictive and potentially deadly drugs.
- Do not keep opioids in your home. If prescribed opioids, after your prescription use has ended dispose of any remaining pills following medication disposal guidelines in your community. If you do need to use prescribed painkillers for a period of time, keep them safely out of reach of children—preferably in a locked drawer or cabinet—at all times. Keep the phone number of your local poison control resource easily accessible at all times in case of an emergency as well.
- Talk to your children about opioid use. Make sure your children understand the risks associated with opioid use both when prescribed and taken recreationally. Enabling open dialogue will make your children more comfortable talking to you in the future if they are tempted to consume any form of opioids. If you believe your child may be at risk of self-harm, seek mental health treatment and support as soon as possible.
- Monitor your child’s behavior and look for signs of opioid addiction. Even if your home is free from prescription painkillers, your child may be able to obtain prescription or illegal opioids from friends or other acquaintances. Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of opioid misuse so you can identify changes in your child’s behavior.
- Talk to your child’s physician. If your child suffers an illness or injury and needs to be treated for acute or chronic pain, talk to your child’s physician about all the options available. If painkillers are prescribed, talk to your doctor about the minimum effective dosage, and when your child no longer needs the medication, safely remove any excess pills from your home.