Almost 24% of American high school students have abused prescription drugs. This alarming statistic was reported by a study in 2012 that surveyed almost 4000 teenagers in grades 9 thru12 around the country and over 800 of their parents. The survey found that teens are using pharmaceuticals with the understanding that prescription drugs are safer for them to abuse than street drugs and that, overwhelmingly, their parents agree with them. It is this background of misinformation that gives rise to opiate abuse among teens.
The Categories of Opiates
Opiates are drugs that act similar to opium in the body. They are narcotic pain relievers and highly addictive when abused. Many, such as morphine and codeine, are easily available by prescription. Opiates are generally broken into three categories: naturally occurring, semi-synthetic, and synthetic. Morphine and codeine fall under the natural umbrella, with heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and hydromorphone being some of the most popular semi-synthetics. Methadone is a synthetic opiate used to treat heroin addiction.
The reason so many teenagers have access to opiates is that they are typically prescribed as pain relievers. Many parents have prescriptions to these drugs and give them to their teens when the children experience pain. Because the use of pharmaceutical products is normalized in our culture, it is easy for teens to obtain them in high quantities. It only takes about two weeks of overuse and abuse of opiates to become addicted, and since teen bodies and brains are still developing, they are especially at risk.
Opiates may be pain relievers when used properly, but opiate abuse among teens is on the rise due to the high feeling they get after ingesting the medicine. Vicodin and OxyContin are popular opiates abused by teenagers because they are so easy to find in their homes and the homes of their friends. These two narcotics may be viewed as “gateway opiates”, as abusing them easily leads to heroin use. Every day, 2500 young people between twelve and seventeen years of age will abuse a pain reliever for the first time.
When taken as prescribed by doctors, opiates rarely result in addiction. This is due to proper monitoring and regulation of the drugs. However, when developing bodies use medications that were not meant for them in unhealthy quantities, addiction is the likely result. According to the United States Office of National Drug Control Policy, opiate overdoses from prescription drugs are on the rise.
Opiate Abuse Among Teens
Opiate abuse among teens is dangerous and on the rise. An abundance of available prescription drugs combined with the normalization of using them has resulted in addiction and overdose amongst our youth. Prescription painkillers make life easier for so many people, but for teens who abuse them, they complicate life unnecessarily.