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Educating Students About the Dangers of Opioids

Opioids are a group of prescription medications that are used to relieve pain. These medications can be very addictive, which is why they are often misused or abused. Over the last decade, addiction to opioids has skyrocketed, becoming a public health emergency. Students of all ages, especially teens, are at risk for opioid misuse or abuse.
Teachers, parents, family, and friends can play an important role in teaching children and teens about the dangers of opioid addiction. Education and support can enhance students’ decision-making skills and provide tools to help them handle peer pressure and make better decisions.

What is opioid misuse and abuse?
Misuse is when a person takes an opioid or any medication that is not prescribed to them, or when someone takes it for a purpose other than the reason it was prescribed. Abuse occurs when a person takes an opioid or other medication to get high.

Opioid abuse and misuse are dangerous, because an individual may enjoy the high so much that they start to repeat the experience over and over. This is called addiction, which can lead to an overdose.

What can parents do to prevent opioid misuse and abuse?
Parents can play an important role in keeping students safe and healthy. According to the Center on Addiction, there are three important steps parents can take to prevent their children from misusing opioids and to reduce the chances of an accidental overdose:

  • Properly store and dispose of prescription opioid medications.
  • Talk to your child’s doctor about risk for addiction if they are prescribed an opioid pain medication following an injury or surgery.
  • Engage in an honest conversation with your child.

How can parents start a conversation?
Talking with a teen or young adult about drug abuse can be challenging, but conversations around opioids should be an ongoing and open dialogue. Here are a few tips on how to talk to your child or teen:

  • Choose a convenient time and place.
  • Ask open-ended questions.
  • Offer support and let your child know you understand how they feel.
  • Be sure to clearly communicate that you don’t want them abusing prescription medications like opioids or using illegal drugs.

Tools and resources
Numerous resources are available to help parents, teachers, and community members talk to students about the risks of opioid abuse and misuse. Visit the following sites for more information:

By Jessica Lassiter, Pharm.D., BCPS, CPPS, Manager of Medication Safety, Quality, Drug Information/Drug Policy, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, OR