As addiction to opioids is ravaging our country, parents and community groups continue to ask us what they can do to prevent addiction in their families and community. In response to these questions, we’ve developed a list of things you can do to help prevent and/or stop addiction, especially among adolescents.
As the opioid epidemic continues and the number of overdose deaths climbs, naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug also known by the brand name Narcan, has become even more important. While it’s not a treatment for opioid addiction, naloxone has the ability to bring individuals experiencing an overdose back from the brink of death. Because of its life-saving abilities, public health leaders agree it is essential that naloxone remain widely accessible to medical centers, first responders and private citizens.
As our nation continues to be in the throes of the worst opioid epidemic in its history, a serious but not widely recognized consequence is the surge in newborns born to mothers who used opioids during pregnancy. These babies can experience painful opioid withdrawal symptoms, known as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).
Since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids, including prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin, has nearly quadrupled. In September, for the first time, the White House designated a Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week. As part of this awareness week, President Obama called for expanding access to prevention and treatment services for opioid use disorders.
As we continue to read and hear dire stories about the heroin epidemic, new and more dangerous opioids seem to be emerging at a rapid pace. Another narcotic that is now a part of this epidemic is called carfentanil. Though it is sold mixed into – or “cut” with – heroin and other drugs, carfentanil is so potent that even the smallest dose can cause an overdose and death.
Stories surrounding opioid addiction tend to be overwhelmingly negative and dire, often leaving people with little hope. This week – which President Obama proclaimed as Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week – I’d like to shift the conversation and talk about how one state has taken extraordinary measures in responding to the opioid epidemic.
Adolescents and young adults misuse prescription opioids more than any other age group, and teen substance use significantly increases the risk of developing addiction. They are also at highest risk for overdose. These are startling statistics, but there are three important steps parents can take to prevent their teens from misusing prescription drugs, reduce the chances of accidental overdose and avoid the devastation of opioid addiction.
As Americans continue to struggle with opioid addiction, many blame the pharmaceutical industry for driving the problem through the extensive marketing of pain medicine and promoting prescribing practices that many regard as reckless. A recent Los Angeles Times investigation focused on the pharmaceutical company Purdue and their opioid pain medication OxyContin. They found that Purdue pushed OxyContin on patients and physicians in ways many would find unethical, if not illegal. Additionally, the company helped convince Americans that opioid medications weren’t just for those in agony from cancer or major surgery – but that drugs like OxyContin could be used for much more manageable forms of short-term as well as chronic pain.
Injection drug use presents a special challenge for public health – those who inject drugs become severely addicted, often avoid the health care system, and are at high risk for multiple negative health outcomes, including infection, overdose and death. Some solutions fall under the umbrella of harm reduction, a set of strategies targeted at reducing the negative consequences associated with drug addiction. One harm-reduction approach being considered is called a supervised injection facility (SIF) – a legally sanctioned setting where individuals can inject previously obtained drugs (such as heroin and other opioids) under medical supervision.
Prescription opioid and heroin addiction, overdose and deaths have been serious problems for many years. As the crisis more recently expanded to suburban and urban communities, it has generated significant media and political attention. Documentaries are being developed to raise awareness of the epidemic and its devastating impact on families in a way that is relatable to viewers. A recent example is the HBO documentary “Heroin: Cape Cod, USA,” which offers a graphic portrayal of heroin addiction by following the lives of eight young people addicted to the drug.
Newsletter Additional Information
Thank you for subscribing
This information will be used to better customize your experience and help inform future tools and features on our website.