Teen prescription painkiller abuse is on the rise

…. and even the “good” kids are at risk

photo of drug sale
Among teens, prescription drugs are the most commonly used drugs next to marijuana, and almost half of the teens abusing prescription drugs are taking painkillers.

Why are so many young people turning to prescription drugs to get high?

According to the October issue of Pediatrics at University of Michigan, high school students who legitimately use an opioid prescription by age 23 are one-third more likely to abuse the drug than those with no history of the prescription.

Part of the danger of painkillers is that teens think because they are legal drugs they must be safe to use. They are also easy to get, since many families have painkillers in their medicine cabinets. Teens sometimes get painkillers legitimately for injuries or after surgery and get addicted. Sometimes parents will even give their children their own prescription painkillers, giving teens the idea that the drugs are safe.

“Most likely, the initial experience of pain relief is pleasurable and this safe experience may reduce perceived danger,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Richard Miech, research professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

What are the effects of painkiller abuse on teens?

Painkillers are opioids which are very addictive. Teens often crush these drugs and snort them, which may deliver up to 12 hours worth of the drug at one time. This can be fatal, even the first time a teen tries it. Some more dangerous effects of painkiller abuse include:

  • Decrease in motor skills
  • Decrease in ability to think and learn
  • Drowsiness
  • Apathy
  • Stomach problems
  • Addiction and withdrawal (potentially fatal)
  • Overdose (potentially fatal)
  • Severe confusion (potentially fatal)
  • Trouble breathing (potentially fatal)
  • Cold, clammy skin (potentially fatal)
  • Convulsions (potentially fatal)
  • Pupils look tiny (potentially fatal)

How to help teens who might be abusing painkillers

Painkillers are similar to heroin, which is much cheaper, so some teens move from painkiller abuse to heroin use. Parents should teach their teens about the dangers of painkiller abuse and ask teens if they or their friends use painkillers. Parents should keep track of their own prescriptions and ask other family members, such as grandparents, to do the same. Parents can also set clear rules for children about not sharing medicine and always following the prescribed dosage—and parents should also abide by these same rules.

If teens are addicted to painkillers, they will need medical help to get through withdrawal (this cannot be accomplished on one’s own), followed by counseling and support to avoid relapsing into using the drug. Parents should be loving and supportive of their teens going through this process, and try not to place blame on their teen.

Sources:
SAMHSA Family Guide, “A Prescription for Danger – Use of Painkillers on the Rise”
Parents. The Anti-Drug. “Prescription Drug Abuse”
Partnership for a Drug-Free America
Pediatrics. University of Michigan