Teens, Drugs, and the Opioid Epidemic – What Parents Should Know

The opioid epidemic is plaguing countless families in the US. In addition to opioids, illegal drugs are also easily available in most cities and suburbs in the country. This overexposure to drug culture is taking a substantial toll on the most vulnerable group in our society – the children.

In the last 20 years, drug addiction rates have skyrocketed. America’s favorite drug is opioids. Opioids and drugs that trigger similar effects as opioids are being used across the country and more terrifyingly – across all age groups.

Overdoses from these drugs are now the number one cause of accidental deaths in the country. The hard facts about drug use and drug overdoses are disturbing –

  • Opioid addiction claims the lives of 115 Americans every day
  • The total number of Opioid-related treatments is 7,000 per day
  • In 2018, approximately 700,000 adolescents and young adults were illegally exposed to opioid pain relievers
  • There’s estimated to be 10,000 high-school children who reported using heroin in 2018. That’s 1 out of every 250 high school seniors in the country.
  • 1 out of 15 high-school seniors report using sedatives, narcotics, and other drugs for pleasure.
  • 2.3% of all the 12th graders in the USA reported misusing OxyContin

(Source – JAMA Network Open’s extensive study on illicit drug use amongst children)

Young Adults and Adolescents Face the Worst Challenges

With over 9000 American children and adolescent dying because of illicit opioid poisonings in just 17 years (1999-2016), the writing on the wall couldn’t be clearer.

  • The JAMA Network Open study also revealed that most of the victims of these deaths were teenagers.
  • During this period, the mortality rate of heroin-using teenagers increased by 400%. Nothing was done to revert the crisis then and not much progress can be claimed now.
  • Over 88% of those victims were male teenagers aged 15-19.
  • Only 7% of those deaths occurred in children.

Parents are abusing drugs and their children are getting exposed during the process. But, at least those children have a foster care system to fall back on. For young teenagers who seek out these drugs for whatever reason, matters almost always end with death or hospitalization.

Tackling The Problem

The main reason why the drug culture problem amongst youngsters in the USA is so hard to solve is evolution. Teenagers keep switching their addiction habits. Each year, there’s a new lethal drug in the market and every year trends change.

Addressing the drug epidemic without considering the most at-risk group is pointless. Adolescents, teenagers, and young adults are exposed to opioids, heroin, and other similar drugs way before they reach adulthood.

In the past 15 years, the three standout drugs in terms of popularity amongst adolescents, teenagers, and young adults are heroin, prescription opioids, and fentanyl.

In 2017 alone, close to 5000 adolescents, teenagers, and young adults suffered from overdoses and drug-related deaths. To tackle this issue, experts must first assess the average American adolescent, teenager, or young adult.

Understanding the Victims

American adolescents, teenagers, and young adults are unique and often hard to read, even for expert psychologists.

Many of the drug abuse victims come from broken families. They deserve special attention and opportunities to improve their lives. But, most of them avoid these opportunities whenever they’re presented to them.

That’s because their scattered minds are torn between two behavioral patterns – one child-like and another adult-like. The way they treat their bodies and minds is very adult-like. The reactions to the problems that arise from such behavior are child-like.

Unfortunately, from a very young age, their minds have been hard-wired to react to rewards. For them, going against their elders’ advice and seeking out drugs is a form of pleasure. These risk and substance-seeking behaviors are very common amongst teenagers. That’s why during their transitional period, they face the worst risk of getting addicted to opioids and abusing other non-prescription drugs.

Where Do They Get Their Drugs?

1 out of 15 high-school seniors report using drugs without prescriptions. The most common sources of drugs are –

  • Prescription opioids and other prescription drugs from family members.
  • Many of them acquire their drugs from school friends as Opioid Use Disorder is rampant among American adolescents, teenagers, and young adults.
  • Many users report mental health issues as a justification for using these illegal substances.
  • The most commonly quoted mental illnesses by underage drug abuse victims are – depression, attention disorder, hyperactivity, and anxiety. Many of these illnesses occur at the same time. These youngsters are also more likely to consume alcohol and marijuana.

Overall, a concoction of factors drives America’s youth towards drug abuse. While opioids are the biggest risks, it is common for underage drug abusers to experiment with multiple illicit substances. Overall, the key factors contributing to this continued abuse include –

  • Mental trauma
  • Unstable housing arrangements
  • Lack of parental authority
  • School absenteeism
  • Bullying
  • Peer pressure from friends who are already addicted to drugs
  • Social stigma preventing victims from seeking expert help

Even children living in rural areas have been exposed to the illegal drug networks that run rampant across the country. Top medical experts suggest measures like –

  • Screening
  • Family interventions
  • Hospitalization to find out whether the child has been misusing drugs
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Family therapy

The last resort that doctors turn to is medication. When other methods of treating youth diagnosed with drug addiction don’t work, doctors recommend the use of medicines like methadone or naltrexone.

But, is that the type of solution our children deserve? As it is there are countless obstacles in the healthcare system that young victims of drug abuse have to face.
Screening for drug use isn’t a part of our teenage healthcare programs. That’s why reforms have to be made at all levels. From the family units, to states, to the whole country – comprehensive strategies are essential for addressing this opioid epidemic.

Recommended Reforms

School Reform

A school system where 10,000 high-school children are heroin addicts deserves criticism. The social pressure on teenagers is excessive in some school settings. In-school organizations or healthcare centers don’t offer much help to underage drug abusers.

A reformed approach to this issue should see-

  • Teachers discussing the problems with students
  • De-shaming the concept of drug addiction
  • School-affiliated organizations should set up convenient mental health programs for at risk adolescents, teenagers, and high-schoolers
  • Schools should have access to drug screening technology
  • Schools must invest in some form of treatment process
  • Teachers and faculty members should offer recovery support to victims

Without intensive monitoring in the places where children spend the most of their time, tackling this issue is impossible.

Community Reform

What can schools do if many drug users skip school? The goal of these reforms is to reach out and there’s no better way to reach out to these victims than targeting their communities. In the past, support workers and addiction coaches have visited at-risk neighborhoods to offer mental support to the children, their families, and the community in general. There needs to be more investments made in adolescent healthcare programs especially for the children who suffer from volatile housing conditions.

Reform at Home

Family-oriented treatments are always the most effective because they’re private, convenient, and involve members from multiple generations of the family. No one knows children better than their parents. So, parents must take a counselling role and –

• Discuss the dangers of drug abuse
• Speak about the long-term implications of drug addiction
• Mixing drugs is in fashion. Many teens mix their opioids with alcohol or marijuana. Such actions vastly increase the chances of overdose.
• Be the example. In most cases, teens who abuse drugs have parents who do the same. If there are medications in the home, parents must check them on a day to day basis. Storing them in an inaccessible location is also important as opioid-addicted children go to any lengths to get drugs.
• Get rid of all medical prescriptions.
• Keep track of the child’s friend circle
• Keep an overdose kit at home. Naloxone is a commonly-recommended adversary of opiates. In case anything unfortunate occurs, a quick dose of this drug can save the child’s life.

Reform on Phones

The amount of time children spend on their smartphones keeps increasing every year. Why not target these at-risk children on their phones? Constant texting or messaging on social media platforms is a great way for parents to keep in touch with their children. They must use technology to target their technology-driven children.

The MMGuardian app enables parents to extend their role as full-time guardians and has been recommended by experts as the perfect app for keeping track of a child’s online activities, text messages, etc.

Privacy is a big deal for American youngsters. Keeping this in mind, MMGuardian has been designed to allow parents to be as hands on or off as is necessary for their child. In addition to being able to view all of their child’s SMS, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and TikTok text messages, parents will also be alerted if concerning messages are detected on the child’s phone based on categories such as drugs, violence, predators, and many others. Parents will also have access to an extensive range of other features such as location, web filtering, app blocking, and much more. To try out MMGuardian and receive a 14 day free trial, just click the button below!

Consider also joining our Facebook group “Tech-Savvy Parenting” to discuss raising kids in the 21st century with other parents.

The opioid epidemic is a public health crisis. Anyone can fall victim to addiction. Parents and senior members of the community must ensure that Generation Z receives support and guidance, every step of the way.

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