Parents worried their children might be addicted to opioid pain pills often don’t know where to turn for help.
Hearing from another parent can help them navigate the treatment process. That’s the idea behind Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, a national nonprofit offering education and support on opioid misuse and substance abuse.
Parents also should be aware of the warning signs of substance abuse, said Pat Aussem, consultant for the Parent Support Network at Partnership for Drug-Free Kids (drugfree.org).
Aussem offered the following tips for parents:
When children are prescribed painkillers, Aussen said, they should ask the doctor questions about the medicine prescribed. âThe first questions I would ask is, is a prescription opioid necessary to treat the pain?â she said.
CouldÂ an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen and ibuprofen or an alternative therapy like physical therapy, massage,Â acupuncture and biofeedback, be an option?
If an opioid pain reliever is prescribed, ask about the quantity of pills being prescribed over what period of time, Aussem said.Â Then ask whether itâs necessary to prescribe as many pills and if the child shouldÂ take the full duration of the prescription. Many states are limiting the duration of opioid pain pills to five days or so, she said. If a doctor prescribes more, ask why.
âThis is not like getting amoxicillin and they tell you you need to do the full course because you could have a recurrence,â Aussem said. âThis is very different.â
Ask the doctor how to determine if your child still needs the pain medication after a day or two. âItâs important to communicate regularly about the level of pain theyâre experiencing and making sure itâs diminishing over time,â she said.
If the child is unusually drowsy, dizzy, nauseated or has slowed speech, talk to the doctor about whether the dosage is too high.
âIf theyâre asking for pain medication more frequently than prescribed or insisting on getting refill, those parents should talk to the physician,â Aussem said.
Parents should keep track of the amount of medication the child has. âThe majority of kids who have access to prescription medication for non-medical use are getting it from friends and acquaintances,â Aussem said.
Ask whether your child should be pre-screened before receiving an opioid prescription to determine the risk of substance abuse. Tell the doctor if your child has been in treatment for a substance abuse disorder.
Too often, doctors donât ask, so parents should be proactive, Aussem said.
Parents need to safeguard medications at home in locked cabinets. “People tend to keep pain relievers in their home in case they throw their back out,” Aussem said. “Our recommendation is to properly dispose of them.”
Many areas have “take back” days where prescription medication can be dropped off for safe disposal. New drug deactivation systems, such as Deterra (deterrasystem.com), allow for medication to be deactivated and put in the trash, Aussem said.
Ask for childproof and secure bottles. Some new opioid pills have a detection system with a timer that can tell if the bottle has been opened after a scheduled dose already has been taken. Parents also can count the pills given and watch how many the child has taken.
Parents who suspect their children are using opioids without a prescription should learn how to use naloxone, or Narcan, which can reverse an overdose. “Itâs important that parents get trained. Get a kit and get trained on it,” she said.
Treatment and support
Then seek treatment. Detoxification aloneÂ isnât going to cure the addiction. New medicine-assisted treatment involving buprenorphine can reduce the child’s desire for the opioids.
Parents also should seek support from groups like Nar-anon (nar-anon.org), a 12-step program providing education and supportÂ for families and friends of addicts.
Partnership for Drug-Free Kids provides parent coaches and counselors who are willing to speak with parents of addicted youth. âMany parents call us and ask âCan I talk to another parent who has walked this journey?’â
Often parents arenât aware of Narcan or how to become trained to use it. Some are afraid to ask authorities for help because they arenât aware of Good Samaritan laws that protect them. âIt used to be if police came, everyone would be arrested and charged with paraphernalia. [Now] people can reach out without getting into trouble with the law,â Aussem said.
Partnership for Drug-Free Kids offers anonymous, supportive, nonjudgmental support. âI think a lot of people who are in small towns donât want to say this is what is happening in my town because they donât want everyone to know their business,â Aussem said.
âWeâre really good at hand-holding and saying weâre going to get through this journey together.â