What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids
By this time, most people know that we are in the midst of a drug-related disaster in this country. Overdose is the number one cause of death among people younger than 50 in the United States. In New Orleans, drug overdoses doubled from 2015 to 2016, and 80 percent of those cases involved opioids, according to the Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office.
Various factors account for the opioid epidemic. The abundance of illegal drugs such as fentanyl and the over prescription of pain medication are leading factors that contribute to the problem, along with social factors such as the economy. Many addicts start with prescribed pain medication and then move on to cheaper heroin and fentanyl. Carfentanil is a concentrated, highly toxic, synthetic drug that is marketed as heroin or fentanyl. It only takes ingestion of a few grains the size of salt for this drug to be deadly.
What parents and all of us need to embrace is that victims of this epidemic do not have a specific face. Bored teens from middle-class families, athletic students who have been prescribed pain meds and the typical thrill seeker are all at risk. We also must recognize how available and abundant opioid pain medication is in our homes, at school, at parties and on the street. We must assume that many of our children will be exposed to opioids.
Here’s how parents can help:
- Take a look at yourself and your orientation to pain and discomfort. Are you modeling chemical coping? Can other means be explored to bring relief such as mindfulness, heat/ice, physical therapy or over-the-counter pain relief? Think twice before having the prescription for OxyContin filled after you have a tooth pulled. Ibuprofen may work just fine.
- Dispose of all opioid medications if they are not needed (visit the Food and Drug Administration website for disposal tips). Do not leave them in your medicine chest because “you may need them someday.” They can be used or sold for a very high price per pill. Teens or others who visit may find this prospect very tempting.
- Carefully monitor the drugs being prescribed to your children for injuries, dental work and other ailments. Don’t assume that opioids are necessary even if they are prescribed. Explore other options with the prescriber.
- Refrain from serving alcohol at teenage parties. Let’s face it, this is very common in the New Orleans area, and alcohol lowers inhibition among teens and may contribute to bad decisions.
- Teens with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression may self-medicate. Seek treatment in the form of talk therapy and/or consultation with a child psychiatrist.
- It’s time to start talking very frankly with children about drugs – starting with tweens and continuing the discussion with teens and college-age students (and beyond). Acknowledge that the drugs and drug scene are different than when you were growing up. Get to know what’s out there by reading. Don’t be afraid to talk about heroin, prescription pain killers (by name), fentanyl and other illegal drugs. Don’t assume that by having this talk you will be “giving them ideas.”
- Be aware that senior citizens also may be at increased risk of addiction due to physical pain, loneliness and depression.
- Stay engaged with your kids and other family members. Be on alert for early signs of drug abuse and be proactive.
Finally, it’s important for all of us to recognize that drug addiction is a brain problem not a moral failing. Some people are more prone to addition than others. The over availability and use of opioids will be with us for a while. It is time to be maximally proactive.
Pat Blackwell, Ph.D., is a developmental psychologist in practice at Pelts Kirkhart & Associates. 504.581.3933.
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