Addiction can affect anyone of any age, but a trend America has been seeing in recent years is opiate addiction among young people. Today’s young drug addict is not the same as decades past, and the trend has caught many parents and families off guard.
Profile of a Young Drug Addict
Today’s teen drug addict is just as likely to be an honor roll student from the suburbs as a high school drop out in the inner city. The reason for this is the increase in the use and abuse of prescription opiates. Prescription painkillers are prescribed for teens more today than ever before. In fact, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, the prescribing rates for prescription opioids among adolescents and young adults nearly doubled from 1994 to 2007.
How Can Today’s Teens so Easily Get Caught Up with Prescription Opiate Abuse?
Teens Experience Sports Injuries
Teens today are highly competitive in sports and physical activities. For many, long practices, pushing themselves to the limit, and an overall active lifestyle are normal. When an injury occurs, athletes are commonly put on prescription painkillers by their doctor. These medications, while effective at treating pain, are addicting, especially if misused. With the increased number of teens on prescription opiates, the number of problems arising from these medications naturally increases as well. In 2015, 276,000 adolescents were current nonmedical users of pain reliever, with 122,000 having an addiction to prescription pain relievers (American Society of Addiction Medicine).
Teens Underestimate the Strength of Medications
Once a young athlete starts taking pain meds and feeling better, they may start to crave that feeling, or think they need to take more pills to get that same level of pain relief. Some people, especially teens, might don’t understand that these medications can be addicting, so they are not aware of the danger they put themselves in. It is when prescription opiates are taken for longer than directed, at higher doses than prescribed, or more frequently than directed that we start to see problems arise. Then, when they finally realize they can’t stop taking the pills, it is too late because addiction has taken hold.
Teens Lack Knowledge about the Epidemic
Other teens, not respecting the power of prescription opiates, will sell their prescription pills to classmates to make a little money or to make friends. Or, they get together and purposely take large amounts of pills, or crush and snort them to get high. The result is a large number of teens who have access to potentially dangerous opiates – some of which are prescribed by a doctor – and are not taking them correctly. A general lack of knowledge and appreciation for prescription painkillers has fueled the opiate addiction epidemic.
Teens Live in a Quick Fix Society
In our society today, people of all ages are looking for a quick fix to all their problems. We have immediate access to movies, music, shopping, and even prescriptions. We can do all our shopping online and have it delivered the next day to our door. Rapid rewards are widely available in many different formats. Pharmacies are open 24 hours. We don’t like waiting for things anymore, including pain relief. Our young people have learned so much from watching the rest of society. If they need something, they buy it and pay for it later. If they are hungry, they go through a drive through. If they feel pain, they pop a pill or two. This unhealthy need to self-medicate has caused teens to become careless with both over-the-counter and prescription medications.
Teens are “Invincible”
Teens always have, and probably always will, feel invincible. They don’t fully comprehend danger even when it is in front of them, and many simply don’t believe drug use can really be that dangerous. The result is that young people will put themselves in danger in order to feel the rush of adrenaline. They will experiment with drugs and alcohol just to see what happens. As many families have witnessed, prescription opiates can be deadly, and overdoses are at an all time high. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers in 2015 (American Society of Addiction Medicine).
Parents Think it Can’t Happen to their Child
Parents aren’t always looking out for addiction among their teens in these situations. Their children are smart, successful, and popular, not stereotypical “druggies.” This is a particularly dangerous problem, however, because it means parents don’t see the warning signs, sometimes until it is too late.
Prescription Opiate Abuse Turns into Drug Addiction
Drug addiction is a progressive disease, meaning it gets worse for the person over time. Today’s teens might start out using prescription opiates, which they may consider to be relatively harmless. Then, when they get tired of that high, they move on to stronger drugs. Heroin is a natural next step, as it is in the same opiate family as prescription painkillers. From there, a teen will try anything, including cocaine and meth. This is how we have honor roll students and popular athletes from middle class families suddenly becoming hard core drug addicts.
It is important for parents and health care providers to educate kids about the risks of taking any medication, and particularly about the dangers of taking prescription painkillers. Parents need to monitor their children who are on prescription medication, and count the pills if they have to, in order to be sure their teen is not abusing or selling their pills. Finally, we all need to watch for the warning signs of drug abuse and addiction and get help for those who need it.