According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioids are the most commonly misused drugs by Americans over age 14. Opioids can be natural, such as heroin; semi-synthetic, such as oxycodone; and synthetic, such as fentanyl. Opiates, including morphine, heroin, and codeine, are opioids from natural plants.
Opioids bind to receptors in the brain that help relax the body and dampen pain signals. In addition to lessening pain, opioids can make a person feel relaxed, euphoric, and “high.” However, they can also cause dizziness, constipation, nausea, and slowed breathing. When opioid levels are too high, breathing can slow to the point that an overdose occurs. In 2019, 12 people in Utah died every week from an opioid overdose.
Consider these commonly asked questions parents have regarding opioids.
Q. What are street names for opioids?
A. Several street names include happy pills, OC, oxy, oxycotton, percs, vikes, and fentanyl (a synthetic opioid 50–100 times more potent than morphine).
Q. Why do teens misuse opioids?
A. Teens misuse opioids for various reasons, some of which they may not even realize.
Reasons can include: a negative coping strategy (self-medicating), an escape from problems to avoid facing them, pressure to fit in, lack of confidence or self-worth, lack of correct information, knowledge regarding consequences, and an act of rebellion.
Q. Should I allow my doctor to prescribe opioids for my child?
A. Opioids can be safely prescribed for youth under 18 for surgery or significant injuries. However, it is important to ask the prescribing physician about risks and possible alternatives such as heating pads, ice packs, or over-the-counter pain medications.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions to help determine if opioids are necessary for your child. Some may include: 1) Do most patients experience low, moderate, or severe pain after the procedure? 2) What are non-opioid methods that can treat pain after the procedure? 3) If we have unused opioid medication, where can we safely dispose of it?
Q. How can I be prepared in case there is an emergency?
A. Overdoses are the number one injury cause of death in Utah, so it’s important to have a plan in place. Include the Utah Poison Control number (800-222-1222) on all family members’ cell phones. If anyone in your household is taking prescription opioids or using illicit opioids such as heroin, make sure to have naloxone (Narcan®) in your home. Naloxone can safely reverse an opioid overdose short-term so a patient can access emergency services. It is available from your pharmacy, physician, or health department.
Q. How can I prevent opioid misuse in my family?
A. According to youth.gov, there are two key factors surrounding opioid dependency: risk factors and protective factors. A risk factor is a biological, psychological, family, or community characteristic that can bring about negative outcomes. Protective factors are those things that can reduce the negative impact of a risk factor.
Building strong family connections is a key protective factor. Let your children know you value their safety. Provide tools to help them make healthy decisions, including meditating, establishing boundaries, and asking for support. Set aside time when your child has your full attention and can feel comfortable discussing problems. Be involved in your child’s life, and help him or her feel a connection with you.
Though opioid misuse is a concerning topic, the positive news is that teenagers in Utah are 28.16% less likely than the average American teen to have used drugs in the last month.
Additional members of the Health and Wellness Team include: Paige Wray, Katie Zaman, Gabriela Murza, Gabriel Glissmeyer, Elizabeth Elsmore, Maren Wright Voss, Suzanne Prevedel, Stacey MacArthur, and Sandra Sulzer.