How Parents Can Counter the Opioid Epidemic

By Alek S.

Of all of the ways that substance abuse has hurt and pervaded society, there is no area so nefarious and cyclically devastating as the opioid epidemic. This particular problem has grown, tremendously, in the past decade. Between 2002 and 2013, the rate of heroin overdoses has quadrupled.

We can’t allow the opioid epidemic to go unresolved. And I believe that as sober parents who have seen firsthand the devastating effects of addiction, it’s up to us to be at the forefront of the fight. There are important measures that must be taken to save lives and prevent the further spread of opioid addiction…

The current epidemic

2014 will forever be looked at as a dark landmark for those who spend their lives fighting addiction, as it was the year with more recorded overdose deaths than any other. Although this involved overdose deaths from all illicit substances, over 60% of these overdoses were caused by opiates. During a time when most illegal drugs are decreasing in use, opiate addiction (especially prescription pain med abuse) is rising in every single state. The most devastating aspect of this epidemic is certainly the loss of life, and the horrific trail of mourning loved ones left in its wake. However, there is also a financial side to this epidemic, as there is roughly a combined $75 billion spent dealing with opioid abuse every single year, which is quite the economic dent.

The ultimate irony is that this epidemic, at least partly, has been fueled by our own medical industry. Many high-strength painkillers that are recommended by doctors are opioids, and these can become highly addictive, if a patient is not careful. I wouldn’t be surprised if you have several of these opioids in your medicine cabinet right now, from an old procedure or injury. What is surprising is the sheer number of addicts who have used prescription medication like this as a gateway drug to cheaper and more powerful substances, like heroin. The good news, however, is that there are steps being taken to reduce opioid dependency in the medical industry (here is an interesting article about more of that subject).

Moving away from criminalization

For decades, the primary offensive against the rise of addiction was heavy criminalization, or “the War on Drugs”, as it is popularly known. While these measures put plenty of people in jail, and have created a prison culture that makes America have the largest population of incarcerated citizens in the world, it has actually done little to stop the rise of drug usage. Indeed, the opioid epidemic is an inherent example of how these policies have failed. However, moving away from criminalization and more towards a culture that is designed to help addicts achieve recovery, rather than punish them for what equates to a mental disease, is the momentum that we are seeing in drug policies all over the world. Hopefully, in the United States, this will follow. As parents and citizens, we can support legislation that treats addiction as the mental health problem it is, instead of enacting harsher penalties on those that need community support the most.

We need to start in the home

The Surgeon General, as well as various non-profit organizations, have recently become mobilized to counter this epidemic, and you’re going to see some changes in the ways that doctors handle these meds, as well as awareness campaigns throughout the country.

However, the most effective counter-measures happen in the home. There are things that you can do as a parent to protect your loved ones from opiate addiction. Once you’ve put these principles into action in your own home, spread the word so that others understand the danger and can take precautions too. You can learn more about what patients can do to be smart about opiate use here.

– Ask your doctor (or your child’s doctor) for alternative pain treatment instead of bringing opiates into the home. There are other ways to manage pain.

– If you and your doctor decide that opiates are the best path, keep close tabs on the prescription and dosage, and dispose of meds properly when they’re no longer needed.

– Don’t mix opiates with other substances like alcohol or even over-the-counter meds without clearing it with your doctor.

– Follow up regularly with your doctor to monitor dosage and re-evaluate needs as the condition progresses.

The most important thing that you can do as a parent, though, is to stay connected with your children and teach them emotional literacy. The more we learn about addiction, the more we learn that it’s less about the substance itself and more about mental health.