The Opioid Epidemic—Think Your Family Is Immune?

Kid looking sad

Almost daily we see headlines about the opioid epidemic. And for good reason:

No family is immune from the problem, and sadly, teens are one of the fastest growing segments of opioid abusers.

Parents would like to believe their children could never get mixed up with opioids. I pray that’s true for your family. But even if the chance is small, you can further reduce the risk. In this case, information is power.

What are Opioids?

Opioid drugs are chemically related to opium, a product of the opium poppy. Some opioids are legally prescribed as painkillers. Others are strictly illegal. 

Opioids consist of three classes of drugs:

  1. Opiates are produced from the opium poppy plant.
    Example: Morphine
  2. Semi-synthetic opioids are chemically modified versions of opiates.
    Example: Illegal heroin as well as the prescription drugs oxycodone (OxyContin) and hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  3. Synthetic opioids aren’t derived from opiates but are completely man-made.
    Example: Fentanyl and carfentanil which are incredibly potent: fentanyl is about 50 times more powerful than heroin, while carfentanil is about 5,000 times stronger than heroin. It doesn’t take much of these drugs to kill a person.

While some opioids are more dangerous than others, all are addictive and can be abused.

How do kids get hooked on opioids? 

There are numerous ways kids can get involved with opioids. 

Recovering from Injury

For many teens, their first exposure comes after surgery or a sports-related injury. Research indicates most adolescents who abuse prescription opioids are first introduced to them through appropriate medical use. Studies also make it clear individuals who use pain medication as prescribed are at low risk of addiction. It’s misuse of drugs that leads to trouble.

Leftovers in the Family Medicine Chest

Some teens will decide to experiment when they encounter leftover medications in the family medicine cabinet or at a grandparent’s house. Using a medication not prescribed for you is a form of misuse and lays the groundwork for problems with these drugs. 


In a life stage where peer influence is high, some teens join their friends in trying opioids. The good news is that as a parent, you are even more influential.

Listen to Danny Huerta, the vice president of Parenting and Youth at Focus on the Family, and Dr. Benzio on how parents can respond to the opioid crisis. Click on the link below.

Karl Benzio, MD, is a psychiatrist and member of the Physicians Resource Council of Focus on the Family. Dr. Benzio is founder and director of the Lighthouse Network (844-543-3242), a helpline and resource for people dealing with addictions and mental health issues, and Honey Lake Clinic, a residential addiction and mental health treatment program in Greenville, Florida.

© 2018 by Karl Benzio. Used with permission.

Next in this Series: The Opioid Epidemic—How to Keep Your Child from Becoming a Statistic

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