5 Things: Parents and the Opioid Epidemic

At a recent MSNBC Town Hall in West Virginia, moderator Chris Hayes asked people in the audience to raise their hand if they knew someone who had been affected by the opioid epidemic. Most of the people in the room raised their hands. Senator Bernie Sanders looked shocked, as did Chris Hayes. Unfortunately, having worked on this issue since 2009, the audience response was unsurprising. Entire communities have been ravaged by the opioid epidemic. And while overdose rates are highest among people aged 25 to 54, misusing substances, including prescription pain medications, can begin in the teen years. So, what can parents do to prevent prescription drug misuse and the development of a chronic substance use disorder?

  1. Don’t think it just happens to “bad” kids. Unfortunately, our society still considers people with substance use disorders morally flawed. The news is filled with parents who have lost a child due to an overdose. These parents loved their kids and mourn their loss. And too often, they speak of the shame they felt because of their child’s disease. Recently, parents have begun to address this shame by openly writing about the cause of death in their child’s obituary. These parents say they are doing this to bring the disease of addition out of the shadows and to show that substance use disorders and overdose deaths can happen to anyone, in any family.
  2. Talk to your kids. There are several programs that have been shown to reduce substance use among young people. One of the most effective is called “Talk. They Hear You.” The program is targeted at underage drinking, the most commonly used substance among young people. However, the information contained in this program is helpful for speaking with young people about any kind of substance use.
  3. Talk to Your Child’s Doctor. The clear majority of prescription drug misuse begins with a prescription. Young people who have sports injuries or undergo dental procedures are often given prescription pain medications. The American Dental Association (ADA) has established guidelines for dentists to consider when prescribing opioids in light of the highly addictive nature of these drugs. Parents should ask the doctor to consider alternatives to opioids before prescribing. If an opioid prescription is provided, store the prescription drugs safely and monitor use. And if the doctor does prescribe an opioid, be aware that it is dangerous to mix opioids with benzodiazepines. (Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed for anxiety or seizure disorders.)
  4. Dispose of Prescription Drugs Properly. Go look in your medicine cabinet. Are there any unused prescription drugs there? Many people hold on to unused prescription drugs in a medicine cabinet “just in case.” Prescription drugs should never be kept after a procedure and they should never be used by someone other than the person for whom they were prescribed. When prescription drugs are no longer needed, dispose of them properly to avoid misuse. The Drug Enforcement Administration, along with local law enforcement agencies, periodically holds “Take Back” or drug disposal days. The next drug disposal day is set for April 29, 2017 from 10 AM to 2 PM. In addition, some police departments or local governments have drug disposal units available year round, as do some chain pharmacies. Check with your local government officials to find out if there is a disposal program in your town.
  5. Ask for Help. If your child has developed an opioid use disorder, there are treatment options. Also, obtain naloxone. Naloxone is an easy to administer drug that reverses opioid overdoses. Naloxone is available at many pharmacies without a doctor’s prescription, depending upon your state’s law. It is an easy to administer drug that reverses overdoses. Once you receive it, make certain you know how to administer it.

Communities, beginning with the family, have a vital role to play in stopping the opioid epidemic. Talk to your kids. Get help if your child develops an opioid use disorder. And remember, you are not alone.