The epidemic of opioid abuse, dependence, and overdose is a public health crisis. It is affecting people across the country from all areas and of all socioeconomic statuses. Adults are using opioids and the consequences are dire, but teens are also vulnerable.
They are using prescription opioid painkillers and heroin, and they are mixing substances, raising the risks of serious consequences, including overdoses. Abusing any kind of drug is risky for teens, but opioids are especially dangerous.
The Opioid Crisis
Drug overdoses are now killing more Americans than guns and car accidents. This scary statistic can largely be blamed on opioid drugs. These are drugs that are based on the compound found naturally in the opium poppy. Prescription opioids, like oxycodone, morphine, and hydrocodone, are mostly used to treat pain but have been increasingly abused for the euphoric high they cause. Heroin is an illegal opioid that is more potent and potentially more deadly. Increasingly, fentanyl, the most potent of all the opioids, is being abused, often unknowingly by those using heroin laced with it or using fake prescriptions that contain it.
According to statistics, 276,000 teens in the U.S. abused opioid painkillers in 2015, and nearly half of those had become addicted. That same year, more than 20,000 teens used heroin, while 6,000 were addicted to the illegal drug. Between 1994 and 2007 the number of prescriptions written for teens for opioids doubled. In the same year, more than 33,000 people died from overdoses related to opioids, the highest number yet recorded. The overdose fatality rate for teens more than doubled between 1999 and 2015, and opioids are largely to blame.
The Dangers of Opioid Abuse
The most obvious and serious danger of misusing opioids is the risk of a fatal overdose. Opioid drugs are depressants and they slow breathing rate. A too-large dose of any opioid can cause a teen to simply stop breathing. The risk of overdose increases when drugs are mixed. Statistics indicate that 70 percent of teens who misuse opioids mix them with other substances, including those that increase the depressant effect of these drugs.
It doesn’t take long to get hooked on drugs
Opioid abuse can also quickly lead to addiction. Statistics have shown a trend in recent years that people dependent on prescription opioids, including teens, have begun to turn to heroin, possibly because it is cheaper, easier to access as prescriptions have become more tightly controlled and because it is more potent. A growing danger of using heroin is the possibility that it will be laced with fentanyl, a prescription opioid that is even more potent than heroin. This phenomenon is being blamed for the still-rising number of deaths from heroin overdoses.
Consequences of Addiction
Abuse of and addiction to opioids can have serious consequences in addition to the overdose risk. These drugs cause sleepiness and impairment, nausea, confusion, poor judgment, and other problems. Becoming addicted to opioids, a teen may lose the ability to function well in school, can become withdrawn, and may suffer from chronic physical and mental health issues.
What’s to Blame?
The high rates of opioid use, dependence, and overdose in teens is largely blamed on prescription medications, even though heroin use is on the rise. Most teens that develop an opioid problem began by taking prescribed medications. This is a kind of use that can be controlled and managed, preventing later dependence and risky behaviors, such as combining drugs and using heroin. Parents need to be vigilant about any drugs prescribed to their teens, or that are in the household at all. Preventing initial use can potentially prevent all the harm these drugs cause later.