What To Tell Your Child About Opioids


As the professionals, practitioners and policymakers wrestle with the current OPIOID epidemic, parents, you will want to be proactive and prevent the disharmony from entering your home. Education, information and conversation are the first steps towards prevention. Children need to understand the myriad of components to substance misuse, and parents are perfect for information delivery.

Since the country is talking about opioids, parents can begin there. Initiate conversations about prescription drugs, for sooner or later, they will be confronted with a drug of some sort by the time they are adolescents. Other children will talk about it. It is best that parents, in an attempt to shelter their children from exposure to drugs, have honest discussions about drugs of all kinds.

We can’t shelter children from all possible dangers. Parents’ best effort to protect their children from harm is to educate them about these dangers. Age appropriate content, shared information, should guide you.

Use these tips to talk with your child:

  • Plan to have many short talks with your child through ‘bite-sized’ session concepts. One topic at a time to ensure your child fully processes the information. Allow time for questions. Invite them.
  • Choose informal times to have conversations, such as in the car or at dinnertime.
  • Continue talking as they get older. Stay age appropriate, and relevant. There should be no ‘taboo’ topics. The more hidden topics of concern remain, the more vulnerable children, families and communities become.
  • Clearly state what you expect regarding drug use.[be realistic] If your child is considering trying drugs or alcohol, you want them to feel safe enough to approach you to talk about it together.
  • Create family rules together, such as your expectations when hanging out with friends, and rules for having friends over, curfews, chores and
  • Let them know that you are always there for them.

photography of girl riding bike beside man

Encourage open discussions; don’t shy away from the discussions you may not be 100% comfortable having. If parents won’t begin the dialogue and encourage difficult discussions, children will always have the ‘streets’ to inform them. Better for parents to provide information and engage in real-life discussions than a child receiving ‘fake news’ from outside sources. Or allow the ‘blind’ to lead the ‘blind’.

Opioids are a group of drugs that includes prescription pain medications and illegal drugs like heroin. The most common prescription drugs are oxycodone, codeine, morphine and hydrocodone. After marijuana and alcohol , these are most commonly misused substances by Americans age 14 and older.

Misuse can be taking someone else’s medicine, taking medicine in a way other than prescribed, taking it to get ‘high’, or mixing medication with other drugs or substances. Children who take opioid pain medication, even just once, can suffer serious illness or death.

Between 2004 and 2005, approximately 71,000 children under age 18 went to emergency rooms because they took medications while their parent wasn’t looking.

Consequences of taking prescription pain medications include:

  • allergic reactions,
  • breathing problems,
  • coma,
  • permanent brain damage and/or
  • death.

Tell children that just because a medication was prescribed, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be harmful. It’s unsafe to take someone else’s medication, even if the child knows that person. Doctors prescribe different dosages based on a person’s size and age. Taking the wrong strength medication can be deadly. 53% of people age 12 or older obtained prescribed pain medication from a friend or relative.

Parents should talk to their child about how addiction is a disease and misusing medications can have devastating and life-threatening consequences. In 2017, it is estimated that 2.1 million people ages 12 and older had an opioid use disorder. Prescription opioids, when used long-term or improperly, can cause the brain to become reliant upon the drug and become highly addictive.open mouth

If offered prescription pain medication that aren’t theirs, talk to your children about having an ‘exit plan’.  Peer pressure can be powerful and having a way out to avoid taking pain meds, helps children say ‘no’. Ask your children what they would do if offered drugs, like maybe texting a code to a family member. Practice this plan with them to make it easier to follow through. Practice in a safe environment until it feels natural. Then, when your child is faced with a decision, they are better equipped to make smart choices. 

In some situations, your child’s doctor may prescribe an opioid before or after surgery or a broken bone. Talk to your doctor and your child about the risks associated with these drugs, taken as pain relievers. 

Research suggests that one of the most important factors when a child grows up is a strong and open relationship with a parent. Despite how children seem to resist, they really do hear you and listen to your words of concerns. Please discuss the risks of using pain medications with them. Sex isn’t the only conversation to have with your growing child. Add this one to your list of parental duties and responsibilities.



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