Worried That Your Teen May Be Using Opioids?

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At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we’ve recently been talking to a number of concerned parents who are worried that their teenagers may be using and abusing drugs, specifically opioids. Opioids are all over the news these days, potentially leading to addiction, overdose and even death, which is why we wanted to offer this blog with some important information for parents of teens and even preteens.

What exactly are opioids?

Mason Gomberg-001R WEB72

Mason Gomberg, MD

Opioids are prescription drugs most commonly prescribed as pain killers, usually following surgery or to provide relief for patients who are in severe, chronic pain. As well as blocking pain receptors, they affect areas of the brain associated with pleasure, causing a person to experience euphoria, or a “high.” Opioids are so addictive and powerful that they are prescribed with great caution and under very specific orders.

Alcohol and drug abuse is a leading cause of teen death or injury related to car crashes, suicides, violence and drowning.

It can increase the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS, due to unprotected sex. Plus, when teens abuse alcohol and drugs, they’re much more likely to have future alcohol and drug problems.

If opioids are taken exactly as prescribed, patients can remain safe from addiction.

However, taken at higher does or more frequently than prescribed puts a person at serious risk of addiction.  Opioids are so strong, in fact, that even one large dose can be fatal.

The most commonly prescribed opioids include: Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Diphenoxylate, Morphine, Codeine, Fentanyl, Propoxyphene, Hydromorphone, Meperidine (Demerol) and Methadone.

Teen opioid abuse occurs in many different ways.

Most commonly, teens either take more pills than prescribed (their own or someone else’s) or ingest them by means other than prescribed (such as crushing up pills into a powder, then snorting them). Both of these methods greatly increase a teen’s risk of addiction and overdose.

It’s highly unsafe to combine opioids with any other medications, especially alcohol, because of the possibility of respiratory problems that can interfere with breathing, potentially leading to death.

CAUTION FOR PARENTS: Most opiate use by teens is from medicines found in their homes.

This means that parents need to lock up or discard all unused or unneeded pain medications.

How to treat teen opioid addiction

There are many different substance abuse treatment approaches for adolescents, and each approach is designed to address specific aspects of teen drug use. If you and your child decide that treatment is necessary, keep in mind that in order for any intervention to be effective, the clinician providing it needs to be trained and well-supervised to ensure that he or she adheres to treatment protocols.

  1. Behavioral Approaches

Behavioral interventions help adolescents actively participate in their recovery from drug abuse and addiction and strengthen their ability to resist drug use in the future. Therapists provide incentives to remain abstinent, modify attitudes and behaviors related to drug abuse, assist families in improving their communication and overall interactions, and increase the teen’s life skills to handle stressful circumstances and deal with environmental cues that may trigger drug use. Treatment options include:

  • Group Therapy
  • Adolescent Community Reinforcement Approach
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Contingency Management
  • Motivational Enhancement Therapy
  • Twelve-Step Facilitation Therapy
  1. Family-Based Approaches

Family-based approaches to treating teen substance abuse highlight the need to engage the family, including parents, siblings and sometimes peers, in the adolescent’s treatment. Involving the family can be particularly important, as the adolescent will often be living with at least one parent and be subject to the parent’s controls, rules and/or supports. Family-based approaches generally address a wide array of problems in addition to the teen’s substance problems, including family communication and conflict, mental health issues and problems with school and peer networks, including:

  • Brief Strategic Family Therapy
  • Family Behavior Therapy
  • Functional Family Therapy
  • Multidimensional Family Therapy
  • Multisystemic Therapy
  1. Addiction Medications

Several medications have been found to be effective in treating teen addiction to opioids, including Buprenorphine, Methadone and Naltrexone.

  1. Recovery Support Services

To reinforce gains made in treatment and  improve their quality of life, recovering teens may benefit from recovery support services, which include continuing care, mutual help groups (such as 12-step programs), peer recovery support services and recovery high schools. Such programs provide a community setting where fellow recovering persons can share their experiences, provide mutual support to each other’s struggles with drug or alcohol problems, and support a substance-free lifestyle. These services include:

  • Assertive Continuing Care
  • Mutual Help Groups
  • Peer Recovery Support Services
  • Recovery High Schools

Resources for more information

If you think your teen may be taking opioids

If you suspect your teen may be using drugs—opioids, other drugs or alcohol—please come in and talk with us at Westchester Health Pediatrics. We have many years’ experience with teens and drug use, and can help guide you and your teen thought this difficult and sometimes scary time. Please come in and talk with us, possibly with your teen. Most of all, we want to help you, your teen and your family be healthy and happy in any way we can.

By Mason Gomberg, MD, a pediatrician with Westchester Health Pediatrics.

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About the Author: ML Ball