Teenagers: The Forgotten Addicts
In the opioid crisis today, a lot of the talk of fatal overdoses, deaths, and soaring addiction rates are generally spoken about in regard to adults. The “twenty somethings” are usually thought of as the main group of people in our society who are struggling with opioid abuse. I don’t believe many people out there consider the addiction and substance abuse rates that exist in the elderly population and in children and teenagers.
I believe everyone has a mental image of today’s drug addict. It’s definitely no longer the guy in shabby, dirty clothes sitting under an overpass shooting heroin. It’s the college kid from a good family who got drunk at a party and made the mistake of trying a painkiller, got hooked, and now can’t keep a job or get their life together. It’s the high school football star who got injured and put on meds, only to find out years and years later that he’s completely strung out. But what we’re forgetting are the young teens who get a tooth pulled at the dentist and are given a large prescription of Vicodin. Or the 18-year-old who broke an ankle and went to an urgent care clinic and was given Percocet for their pain. This is where future addicts are being created and this is something that really needs to be looked at.
A recent study conducted by Dr. Joel Hudgins, a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, found that the rates of prescriptions being given to teenagers and young adults are still in a high range, with a large portion of the drugs being given out by dentists. Dentist visits by teens resulted in an opioid prescription 60% of the time. In medical visits, nearly 47% of collarbone breaks got a prescription, followed by ankle fractures 38% of the time. When it comes to young adults in their early twenties, 58% of the prescriptions came from a dental office, lower back pain complaints got a script 38% of the time, followed by neck sprains with 35% of visits getting a prescription for painkillers.
Dr. Hudgins said, “There are national guidelines on opioid prescribing for adults, and that really helps prescribers know how long, what the right duration is, and what the right opioid is, and things like that. There really aren’t those guidelines, or at least not at the national level, for adolescents and young adults.”
When teenagers and young adults are exposed to strong drugs early in life, their chances for substance abuse and dependence in the future greatly increases. This group of people really needs to be looked at and helped just as much as the adult population—if not more. Parents really need to ask questions, know the risks of taking these drugs and ask the physician for the minimum amount necessary for their child’s painful condition. No one needs to get set up for future addiction. Today’s children are our future leaders. Not only does the answer to our opioid crisis lie in education and rehabilitation, it also lies in our kids and doing everything we can to prevent them from becoming addicted.