Opioids are a category of highly addictive narcotic drugs, which include prescription pain medicine and illegal substances like heroin. They’re products, or synthetic versions, of the opium produced in small amounts by poppy plants. In large doses, they can slow the body’s heart and breathing to the point of stopping.

Opioids cause a temporary high by creating artificial endorphins, which are the hormones normally made in the body to decrease pain. Continued opioid use can make the brain to stop producing its own endorphins and build up tolerance. This causes people to take increasingly higher doses to feel good and to avoid severe, flu-like withdrawal symptoms. This can happen in a very short time; eight to 10 days.

Some synthetic opioids such as fentanyl can be made illicitly underground or shipped overseas. It comes in a white powder that can be snorted or injected. These synthetic drugs can have a potency 5,000 to 10,000 higher, milligram for milligram, than heroin. So very small amounts can be shipped or transported and easily mixed with other drugs.

Information from the Centers for Disease Control state that drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death. They’re more than car accidents, falls and homicides. In 2015, there were 33,000 deaths and half involved a prescription opioid.

How does the opioid epidemic effect children and teens? Families are broken apart when a parent is arrested, when an addicted parent neglects their children or leave them orphaned. There has been a steady increase in the numbers of children born with such drugs in their system. This is called neonatal abstinence syndrome. These babies require lengthy hospital stays, are more likely to have low birth weights, respiratory complications, feeding problems and seizures. In addition, they have developmental problems that affect learning and behavior.

Parents need to talk to their children about how deadly opioid drugs can be. Their children should know that sharing opioids is a felony crime punishable with jail time. All opioids and other prescription medicine should be kept in a secure, locked place. They should count and monitor the number of pills and return leftover pills to the hospital, pharmacy or doctor’s office. Discuss with you doctor other ways to relieve pain such as anti-inflammatories or acupuncture.

If there’s a problem with opioid dependence or addiction there are medication-assisted treatment programs that can help teens and adults. There are also programs for pregnant women.

If there’s a suspected overdose, Naloxone can prevent opioid overdose deaths. Naloxone is available over the counter in Texas. Many pharmacy chains have coupons available to help with the cost. It can be given intra-nasally or injectable. Always call 911.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

(2) comments

Paul Hyatt

You can talk to your child until you are blue in your face and pray for them, but if they are so inclined they will do what they will do. I know first had how destructive drugs can be to a family....

George Croix

There's a reason that permissive and responsible are not synonyms.....
It's a shame that so many kids in trouble could have been saved by having actual parents, rather than just people who they lived with.....

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