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Opioid Pain Relievers: A Quiz and Some Tips

September 04, 2015  |  Falmouth Enterprise

Dr. Michael Bihari

This is the fifth (and the last, for awhile) in a series of articles about opioid painkillers. Although opiate overdoses (especially heroin) are frequently in the news, how much do you actually know about these medications and how they are used to manage acute and chronic pain? 

Pain is the most common reason people seek medical treatment. In fact, 100 million Americans have chronic pain and many are treated with opioid painkillers, some for long periods of time. 

Test Your Knowledge

Read through the following statements and determine if you think they are true or false. Understanding your own perspective can help you make sure that you keep dangerous medications away from your children and others. 

I think it's OK to borrow prescription drugs from another adult family member, as long as I am careful. (Using someone else's prescription medication is potentially harmful, against the law, and sets a poor example for your teens)

I routinely check the quantities of medications my household currently uses. (This is important to do especially if you have medications that can be abused, such as prescription painkillers, sleeping pills, or tranquilizers)

I take care to safely dispose of medications if expired or no longer needed. (Doing so helps keep medications off the street. The best place to dispose of medications is the drug kiosk in your local police station)

My kids know how I feel about misuse of prescription drugs because I talk to them about it. (Talk with your kids about the dangers of misusing prescription drugs, they do listen.)

It's important to keep medications secure, but only when my kids are too young to understand what they are. (Medications must be kept secure no matter what age your children are. Keeping them locked up and out of site will discourage misuse.)

I'm sure none of my kids or their friends would ever steal any of my prescription drugs. (Almost 70% of teens who abuse prescription pills get these drugs from a family member or friend.)

I think prescription medications aren't as dangerous if misused as illegal drugs. (Medications, especially prescription painkillers, are as dangerous if not more dangerous that many street drugs. They are a common cause of addiction, overdose, and death.) 

I would notice if some of the prescription or over-the-counter drugs went missing in my home. (Hopefully you keep tabs on all medication in your home.)

I believe most kids looking for ways to get high are looking for illegal street drugs. (The most common substances abused by teens are alcohol and marijuana, but many kids and young adults are using prescription medications  to get high.)

My kids get information about misuse of drugs at school; that's all they need to know.  (Although our kids get some information about drugs and alcohol in school, it is very important to make sure that you share your thoughts - and standards - with your kids. Talk, they do listen!)

I did some crazy things when I was young, so I avoid talking to my kids about drug abuse. (It's important to be honest with your kids about your own drug or alcohol use when you were their age. Share that we know more about how drugs and alcohol can negatively affect the growing brain, information that was not available when you were a kid.

I'm sure kids are going to try things they shouldn't, especially in high school or college, but there's nothing I can do to stop it. (Not so. Again talk with your kids. Set limits and let them know that you disapprove of any drug use or underage drinking.)

Some Tips to Protect Our Kids

The good news? You can do a lot to help protect your teen from drugs or alcohol. The following tips might be helpful:

Set Expectations: Teens who know that their parents disapprove of drug use are less likely to use - and vice versa. Let your kids know how you feel about drugs before they become teenagers.

Don't Ignore Mental Health Issues: Many teens who abuse drugs suffer from mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, and other disorders. Early identification and intervention are key to helping prevent drug and alcohol use in teens and young adults.

Experimentation Is a Big Deal: Although experimentation does not necessarily lead to addiction, don’t assume that there's nothing worrisome if your child tries drugs or alcohol. In fact, even dabbling in substance abuse can cause big problems, such as car accidents, sexual assault, and serious overdoses. It's not a normal rite of passage. And, the younger age that kids experiment, the more likely they are to have a substance abuse problem when older. 

Be Honest About Your Past Drug Use: Parents often feel uncomfortable discussing their own experiences with drugs or alcohol. There's no reason to wax nostalgic about your own substance use when you were a teen or young adult, but be honest if your kids ask. Use the opportunity to have a discussion.

Be a Role Model: Think your teen doesn't pay much attention to you? Research tells us otherwise. Model the kind of behavior you want from your teen. 

Try Not to Be Judgmental: It's okay to be firm and set limits, but "laying down the law" in a moralistic way can close off lines of communication. Do all you can to make your child feel comfortable about coming to you for help, if it's needed.

Intelligence Does Not Equal Maturity: Just because your child is smart does not mean he is mature enough to have good judgment about drugs and alcohol. The region of the brain responsible for judgment - the prefrontal cortex - does not fully mature until she is in her mid-20s.

Keep Track of Your Medications: Prescription medications that family members currently need should be kept in a locked cabinet or medication lock-box. If you no longer need the medication, get rid of it at your local police station. And pay attention to other substances around the house that have the potential for abuse, including over-the-counter medications and alcohol.

Consider Family History: Like many other healthcare conditions, addiction can run in families. If family members have a problem with drugs or alcohol, your child is at greater risk. It's important to discuss your family history with your child and the importance of not drinking or using drugs. Also, make sure that your child's physician knows the details of your family's substance use.

Pat Attention to Changes in Your Teen: Changes in sleep, mood, friends, activity level, academic performance, weight, personal hygiene, etc. can all signal a substance abuse problem.

Don't Put Off Getting Help: According to a recent survey, about two million teens between the ages of 12 and 17 need treatment for a substance use problem, but only about 150,000 get the help they need. If you think your teen may have a problem with drugs or alcohol, speak with a therapist, your child's pediatrician, or another expert. Remember, prevention and early intervention are key.

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