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The Opioid Epidemic: How to Protect Your Family

The Opioid Epidemic: How to Protect Your Family The Opioid Epidemic: How to Protect Your Family

​​Drug overdoses are a leading cause of unintentional de​ath in the United States, and opioids are a major force behind these deaths. All ages and communities ​are affected by opioid addiction.

Opioid overdoses have been growing worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 40 states have seen rising deaths from opioids. Some of these deaths are from an illicit form of a powerful prescription drug called fentanyl. The rapid increase in deaths from these synthetic opioids is especially alarming.

Treating and preventing opioid use disorder is a responsibility we all must share. Here's why it is now more important than ever for families to have access to the care they need, including help with drug addiction.

What are opioids?

Opioids are a category of highly addictive narcotic substances that include prescription pain medicine and illicit opioids like heroin. They are products, or synthetic versions, of the opium produced in small amounts by poppy plants. Large doses can slow body's heart and breathing rate to the point of stopping completely.

Killing more than pain

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 128 people in the United States die every day from an opioid overdose. Prescription opioids are found in millions of households across the country. In fact, the U.S. consumes the majority of the world's prescription opioid supply. According to the CDC, there have been more opioid prescriptions reported in some states than there are people living in those states.

Examples of opioid medication used nonmedically in the United States

Oxycodone - Found in brands such as OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet, Oxecta, Oxycet, and Roxicodone. Some of the common non-prescription or “street" names used for these drugs are Kicker, 30s, 40s, 512s, Oxy, Bean​​s, Blues, Buttons, Cotton, Kickers, Killers, Percs, and Roxy.

Fentanyl - Including Actiq, Duragesic, Fentora, Lazanda and Sublimaze, is 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin. Street names for fentanyl or for fentanyl-laced heroin include Apache, Birria, Blonde, Blue Diamond, China Buffet, China White, China Girl, Dance Fever, Facebook, Friend, Goodfella, Jackpot, Murder 8, Snowflake, TNT, Tango and Cash, White Ladies.

Hydrocodone or dihydrocodeinone – Found in Vicodin, Norco, Zohydro, Hysingla Co-gesic, Liquicet, Lorcet, Dolacet, Anexsia, Zydone, and Xodol. Common street names for the pill version and cough syrup forms are Robo or Tuss, Vikes, Veeks, Idiot Pills, Scratch, 357s, Lemonade, Bananas, Dones, Droco, and Lorries.

Codeine, like hydrocodone - Sometimes found in cough syrup form, it may be called syrup on the street. Brands of acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, that include codeine might be called schoolboy or Cody.

Morphine - Including brands such as AVINza or Kadian. On the street, it may be referred to as Mister blue or dreamer.

How opioid use can lead to addiction

Opioids produce short-term positive feelings by mimicking the body's natural endorphins. In addition to decreasing pain, many experience a “rush" or “high," while others feel improved mood, and/or reduced anxiety or stress. These effects are short-lived, and with continued use, people quickly develop tolerance to opioids, needing higher doses to try to reach the same effects. When they stop using, they may experience withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, sweating, and flu-like symptoms. When this happens, people's opioid use shifts to focus on relieving and preventing withdrawal.

For many people who develop addiction to prescription opioids, when their prescription runs out, they may start buying drugs from dealers or turn to another opioid — heroin. Studies show four out of five new individuals using heroin started by prescription painkillers for nonmedical purposes. See Prescription Pain Medicine & Heroin: The Link Parents Need to Know for more information.

The opioid epidemic's effect on children & teens

  • Addiction doesn't care. Addiction harms children and teens in many ways. Families may be broken apart when a parent is arrested and sent to jail ​for buying or selling opioids. Parents​ who develop addiction may become unable to prioritize the needs of their family and children. Heartbreaking news describe tragic examples of babies who died of thirst or starvation, for example, after their parents overdosed.

  • Prenatal exposure. Babies exposed to opioids during pregnancy can be born with neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS). Federal reports show that a baby with NOWS or neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) was born every 15 minutes. Facing lengthy hospital stays, babies with NOWS are more likely to have low birthweight, trouble breathing and eating, seizures and tremors, and can experience long-term problems with learning and behavior. Doctors encourage pregnant mothers who use opioids to reach out for treatment and recovery care and services and ask them for help.

  • Poisoning and overdose. Children and teens hospitalized for opioid poisoning tripled between 1997 and 2012. Most of the overdose patients were teens, but the largest increase in poisonings was among toddlers and preschoolers. According to one study, children whose mothers are prescribed opioids face a much higher risk for unintentional overdose compared to children whose mothers received a non-opioid prescription, such as ibuprofen, for pain.

What can parents do?

  • Talk to your kids. Tell your children about how dangerous opioid drugs can be, and why it's important to use them only--and exactly--as prescribed. Children who learn about the risks of drugs at home are less likely to use drugs than those who don't learn this at home. Make sure they understand that it is illegal to share opioid medications. More than half of individuals 12 and older who used pain relievers nonmedically said they were given by, bought from, or taken from a friend or family member.

  • Store medicines safely. Keep opioids and other prescription medicine up and away in a secure place. Count and monitor the number of pills you have and lock them up. Do not allow your child or teen unsupervised access to these medications. Never let your child take someone else's prescription medication.

  • Dispose leftover prescription medication. Return leftover prescriptions to a hospital, doctor's office, or pharmacy. Many communities offer "take-back" events to collect unused prescription medications.

  • Use only when nothing else works. If your child has a surgical procedure, you may be concerned about how to help your child manage pain and discomfort. If your doctor has prescribed a pain reliever that contains an opioid, it is important to monitor your child's use of it. It should be taken exactly as prescribed, and for the shortest time necessary.

  • Consider the alternatives. Many people believe opioids work best for pain, but recent studies show that non-opioid medicines such as ibuprofen and naproxen, as well as non-medical approaches can be just as effective. Your doctor may suggest trying certain complementary and alternative treatments—such as acupuncture—as a first step for treating and managing chronic pain.

  • Ask for help. If you think you or your child may be using opioids nonmedically, or developing addiction, don't hesitate to seek help. Opioid use disorder is a chronic, treatable condition that can be managed successfully with medication and recovery support services. Your child's pediatrician can explain treatment and resources available for teen and young adult patients with opioid use disorders, or provide referrals to other providers who can help. Similar treatment is available for pregnant individuals with opioid addiction, as part of a comprehensive public health approach.

  • Know what to do in an overdose emergency. Ask your pediatrician about naloxone, which can prevent opioid overdose deaths. Learn the signs of a possible overdose, such as, difficulty and shallow breathing, severe sleepiness, and not being able to wake up. Always call 911 if you believe someone is experiencing an overdose, even if you give them Naloxone. Know that in many states, Good Samaritan laws provide legal protection to people acting to help someone who has overdosed.

More information

Last Updated
Committee on Substance Use and Prevention (Copyright © 2020 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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