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Opioid Abuse in Teens: How Parents Can Protect Their Teens

2 min read · 4 sections
Evidence-Based Care
Expert Staff

Steps You Can Take to Help Prevent Opioid Addiction in Your TeenOpioids are a class of drugs that are products, or synthetic versions, of the opium produced by poppy plants. They can range from common prescription pain killers to heroin. Unfortunately, due to the fact that they are often prescribed post-surgery or for pain management, they are typically easily accessed. Teenagers may find they have the ability to get their hands on opioids from family member’s medicine cabinets. With the rise of the opioid crisis, making sure your teenager isn’t abusing these powerful drugs is incredibly important.

Statistics On The Opioid Epidemic & Teens

The current opioid epidemic is devastating our country. Every day, more than 130 people in the United States die from opioid overdose. In 2017, opioids were involved in 47,600 overdose deaths, accounting for more than 2/3 of all drug overdose deaths.3 Opioid abuse can affect anyone, including teens. Recent survey findings pertaining to opioid addiction in teens include:4-5

  • Nearly 700,000 adolescents (2.8% of adolescents) misused opioid pain relievers in 2018
  • About 10,000 adolescents used heroin in 2018 (SAMHSA)
  • 1 in 250 high school seniors used heroin in 2018
  • About 1 in 15 high school seniors have used narcotics for nonmedical reasons
  • 0.8% of 8th graders misused OxyContin and 0.6% misused Vicodin in 2018
  • 2.2% of 10th graders misused OxyContin and 1.1% misused Vicodin in 2018
  • 2.3% of 12th graders misused OxyContin and 1.7% misused Vicodin in 2018

What Can Parents Do?

With the effects of opioid abuse devastating our communities, it is important to take the proper steps to protect your teen.

Talk to Your Teens

Educate your children about the dangers of opioid abuse. Describe what can happen to your body when you misuse prescription opioids: short-term effects include sleepiness, confusion, nausea, constipation, and slowed or stopped breathing; long-term effects of opioid abuse include increased risk of addiction and overdose.2

Discuss the Dangers of Mixing Drugs

Discuss the dangers of mixing opioids with other substances. One study found that 7 out of 10 teens who take opioid prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons combine them with other drugs or alcohol.6 This puts teens at a much greater risk of overdose.

Set a Good Example

Teens tend to copy the behavior of their parents. According to a recent study, teens are more likely to abuse prescription opioids if their parents also abuse opioids.7 Parental opioid abuse is linked to use by their children, and a parent’s addiction should be addressed in order to reduce the prospect of teen misuse.

Monitor Your Medications

Take an inventory of the prescription medications currently in your home. Teens are most likely to obtain opioids from a friend or their home, and without first counting the actual quantities of pills you have it will be difficult to monitor them for any loss.

Secure in Safe Storage

An important approach to dealing with teen opioid use is prevention. One way to prevent your teen from acquiring opioids is to eliminate their potential sources. This can easily be done by keeping your medications locked up in a secure place.

Dispose Any Leftover Prescriptions

Safely dispose of any unused opioid medications. This will decrease the opportunity for your teen or their friends to abuse these drugs. Unless stated otherwise on the packaging, you should not pour medicine down the drain or flush down the toilet. Expired or leftover prescriptions can often be returned to a hospital, doctor’s office, or pharmacy for disposal.

Prepare for an Emergency

Know what to do in case of an overdose. Ask your teen’s primary care provider about Naloxone, an opioid antagonist that counters the effects of opioid drugs to prevent overdose deaths. If you suspect your teen is suffering from an overdose, call 911 immediately and then administer Naloxone. If you notice your teen has breathing difficulties, conduct rescue breathing by tilting their head back, pinching the nose closed, and giving one slow breath every 5 seconds until they resume breathing on their own. Be sure to provide comfort and support until the arrival of the paramedics.

Treatment Options

If you suspect your teen may be abusing opioid drugs or developing an addiction, do not hesitate to seek help. Pediatricians can can refer you to suitable opioid treatment programs in your area for detox and therapy.8

Ways to Get in Contact With Us

If you believe you or someone you love may be struggling with addiction, let us hear your story and help you determine a path to treatment.

There are a variety of confidential, free, and no obligation ways to get in contact with us to learn more about treatment.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Opioids.
  2. Schiller, E.Y., & Mechanic, O.J. (2019). Opioid Overdose.
  3. Scholl, L., Seth, P., Kariisa, M., Wilson, N., & Baldwin, G. (2019). Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths – United States, 2013-2017. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 67(5152), 1419–1427.
  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. (2019). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Various Drugs.
  6. McCabe, S.E., West, B.T., Teter, C.J., & Boyd, C.J. (2012). Co-ingestion of prescription opioids and other drugs among high school seniors: results from a national study. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 126(1-2), 65-70.
  7. Griesler, P.C., Hu, M.C., Wall, M.M., & Kandel, D.B. (2019). Nonmedical Prescription Opioid Use by Parents and Adolescents in the US. Pediatrics, 143(3), 1-12.
  8. Committee on Substance Use and Prevention. (2012). Medication-Assisted Treatment of Adolescents with Opioid Use Disorders. Pediatrics, 138(3), 1-6.
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