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What Are Opiates? 7 Facts About Opioid Addiction Every Parent Needs To Know

What Are Opiates? 7 Facts About Opioid Addiction Every Parent Needs To Know
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The opioid crisis in America has hit another level of destruction.

For the last 30 years, opiates and opioids have inundated us in waves, washing away our friends, family members, coworkers, and neighbors in the riptides of addiction and overdoses. And it’s getting worse, now that synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil have hit the streets. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and carfentanil is 100 times stronger than fentanyl.

What was reserved for the underground world of junkies and stereotypical abusers has now invaded our homes. No one is completely safe from opioids. Opioid addiction can come on hard and fast and can take over the most innocent of prescription users before they even know they’re addicted.

It can take someone recovering from a bad accident and it can take someone dealing with chronic pain from cancer. So, what are opiates and opioids? Haven’t they been around for a while? And, why has it become such a massive problem seemingly overnight in North America?

In this post, we’re going to address the opioid crisis as it relates to concerned parents. It’s every parent’s biggest nightmare to see their child fall victim to something as cruel and destructive as opiates.

It’s time to educate yourself on this subject. Don’t live in ignorance, thinking that your children are exempt from opiates and opiods. They’re everywhere and they can tear homes apart from the inside. Let’s dig in.

What Are Opioids? A History of the Opioid Crisis

First, let’s go over part of the opioid crisis history. If you want to understand the danger associated with them, you’ve got to trace it back to the beginning. Heroin has been a problem since the start of the 20th century, but the current crisis didn’t begin until the 1990s.

1st Wave

The opioid crisis came in three distinct “waves”. The first one hit in the early 1990’s when there was a massive uptick in opiate prescriptions, such as morphine and codeine, to treat pain associated with cancer and other diseases. What happened directly after, marked the beginning of the opioid crisis in America.

Pharmaceutical companies, sensing a massive source of profit, begun promoting opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone as a treatment for non-disease related pain. They claimed that the risk of addiction to these drugs was very low, and shortly after it was estimated that around 85% of opioid prescriptions were for non-cancer related pain.

This is where most people are misinformed about the opioid crisis, it didn’t start with needles on the street. It started with pharmaceutical companies promoting the use of pills and pumping susceptible communities full of these addictive substances.

2nd Wave

Fast forward about 20 years. By 2010, public awareness of the rapid increase in addiction and death associated with prescription opioids became undeniable. Pharmaceutical companies are finally being held accountable for the part they played in creating an environment that cost so many Americans their livelihoods.

As regulations on obtaining prescriptions for opiate-based painkillers tightened, making them much harder to obtain, addicts started looking for their drugs elsewhere. This is where the second wave of the opioid crisis began.

Re-enter heroin. As more and more people were being denied their opioid prescriptions, they took matters into their own hands…and into the streets. Heroin turned out to be a much cheaper and easier alternative to pills. However, between 2002 and 2013, death as a result of heroin overdose increased by nearly 300%.

About 80% of all heroin users claimed to use pills before moving on to heroin as a cheaper and more attainable drug. With the increased use of needles came an increased rate of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and infections of the skin, blood, and heart. That has made it a public health issue.

3rd Wave

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, then you’ve heard of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. This represents the start of the 3rd and current wave of the opioid crisis. In 2016 alone, 20,000 people died as a direct result of fentanyl. This is mostly attributed to illegally manufactured fentanyl, not medical grade fentanyl.

The battle against fentanyl and it’s even deadlier counterpart, carfentanil, rages on today. The good news is that we’re increasingly aware of the dangers and are formulating theories on how to stop it. The bad news is, we haven’t been able to just yet.

7 Facts Parents Should Know About Opioids

Now that you know a bit about the story behind the opioid crisis, you can better understand what the following stats and facts mean for your children. Sadly, children no longer get to grow up with the same innocence that they used to.

These 7 facts represent not only what you should be looking out for, since your kids are vulnerable, but what you should instill in them as they grow up in an increasingly dangerous world. That’s not to say that you should instill fear or paranoia into them right now, but they should be aware of the risks of drug use.

7 Facts Parents Should Know About Opioids

  1. Prescriptions to Be Wary Of

    If you’re going to keep your children in the know about opiates and opioids, then you need to know which prescriptions are the most problematic for addiction. Again, there are a lot of opiate-based painkillers that have contributed to this epidemic.

    Most of the time they’re administered risk-free, but take special notice if your child has come into contact with morphine and codeine (the opiates), hydrocodone, oxycodone or fentanyl, (the opioids). If your child lives with you, then you can effectively monitor their drug intake.

    This will give you the opportunity to take up any concerns with them if you notice anything strange. As we’ll learn, there are some obvious signs of abuse that’ll tell you whether or not your child is going down a dark path with their prescription opiates.

  1. Signs of Abuse

    You should notice a distinct change in your kid’s behavior if they’ve been abusing narcotics. For opioids, some symptoms of dependence might include drowsiness, slurred speech, confusion, slow breathing, irregular loss of consciousness, and nausea.

    These might sound like normal symptoms for any illness, but they’ll probably coincide with a few other signs. Irritability will probably occur, as will requests to have the prescription filled more than it should be. If you notice extra pill bottles in the trash, talk to the prescribing doctor to see if this was permitted.

    There will also be signs of withdrawal if they cannot find a way to obtain the drug. Headaches, nausea, sweating, fatigue, anxiety, and sleep deprivation combined with requests for more pills or any other out of character behavior could be a sign of your child’s dependence on opiates.

  1. Accidental Overdose: The Biggest Killer

    Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in America. There were over 47,000 deadly drug overdoses in 2014. Nearly 18,000 of those were a result of prescription painkillers and another 10,500 were a result of heroin overdoses.

    That makes up far more than half of the total number of accidental deaths. This stat highlights the terror that the opioid crisis has wreaked on the States.

  1. 28,000 Adolescents

    In another shocking stat from 2014, it was found that 28,000 adolescents had tried heroin within the past year. It was also estimated that 16,000 of those were current heroin users at the time of the study. Nearly half of those young people admitted to abusing prescription drugs before trying heroin.

    As a parent, this stat should be particularly stark. While 28,000 represents a small amount of the total number of adolescents in our country, you can’t help but feel the pain that the parents of those children must experience.

    Some of these kids have grown up in environments conducive to experimenting and becoming dependent on drugs, but even children with seemingly positive upbringings can get wrapped up in opiates. Talk to your children and remind them of the mortal dangers of experimenting with these kinds of drugs.

  1. Women Are More Likely to Experience Pain

    If you’re the parent of a young woman, then you should inform her of the increased susceptibility of women to chronic pain. As young women age, they are far more likely to experience chronic pain and thus require painkillers.

    65% of opioid prescriptions are made out to women in general, and 40% more women than men end up becoming heavy prescription opioid users after surgery. If you can make your child aware of these perils, then they’ll be prepared for the addictive qualities that opioid painkillers present and how to avoid getting addicted to them.

  1. Treating Addiction

    If it becomes apparent that your child has a problem with opiates or opioids, then you need to deal with it as soon as possible. This will be a multi-step process, but the first thing you should try is an intervention.

    If you don’t know what this is, an intervention is when you sit down with your child and discuss their problem and how to put an end to it. The end goal is to get them into a treatment program where they can go through detox and rehabilitation. It’s easier said than done, however.

    Your child may deny any problems or be resistant to being whisked away to a treatment facility. You need to make it clear that the best thing for them is that they stop abusing opioids, or there will be dire consequences.

  1. Good Samaritan Law

    In many cases, when someone is overdosing on opioids, they’re in the company of other people that are doing or are in possession of opiates. This could even be a family member.

    There’s a law in place to protect those people, allowing them to call for help when someone is overdosing. This is called the Good Samaritan Law. Check in your state and community if the law is in place and what, exactly it covers, as the law may vary from state to state.

    The law generally states that the person calling or helping, will be exempt from any persecution of wrongdoing, as long as they do the right thing and call the authorities for help. Inform your children of this law and have them tell their friends about it as well. It could be the thing that saves their life one day.

Keep Your Children Safe

As your children get a little bit older, it can be hard to keep tabs on them without seeming overbearing. If they experience an injury or have to go through a surgery and end up with an opiate-based painkiller, it’s still unlikely that they’ll become addicted, but it’s important to keep an eye on their behavior.

If you’ve got young children, there will come a day when they’ll ask you, “What are opioids?” and “Why are opiates (or opioids) so dangerous?” Now that you know a bit more about them yourself, you’ll be able to explain to your kids the harm that they may cause. Instill what you’ve learned today into your kids and keep them from danger.

If your child is having problems with opioids, visit Acceptance Recovery Center to find out how to take steps towards recovery. We have several different programs meant to deal with addiction and recovery in different ways, because not every case is the same and we understand that.

While you’re there, check out our recovery blog for inspirational stories of addiction and recovery.

About Dr. Greg Gale, MD

Dr. Greg Gale has been practicing and providing leadership in the field of psychiatry, substance use, and integrated care in the Phoenix metropolitan area for over 11 years. He joins us from his role as a national medical director overseeing behavioral health, substance use, and integrated care services for Humana Behavioral Health. Previously, he was CMO and VP of Clinical Services at Partners in Recovery, a not-for-profit behavioral health and substance use service organization, which operates five clinics throughout Maricopa County. Read more about Dr. Greg Gale, MD 

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