Drug abuse is an epidemic that has taken many lives over the years, and the numbers keep growing. Opioids, in particular, are responsible for more than half of all drug overdoses in the U.S. and have even overtaken automobile accidents as the leading cause of accidental deaths among the adult population. Sadly, this epidemic does not only affect adults, many addicts admit to starting abusing drugs in their pre-teen and teenage years. Therefore, tackling this issue means teaching our children about the dangers of opioid abuse (preferably through story-based learning). Although this is one of the topics parents tend to shy away from, it is important to note that ignoring or denying its existence only increases the dangers linked to this problem.
What are Opioids?
For you to be able to teach young children about the opioid epidemic, it is important to understand what they are and how they work. Opioids are very addictive narcotic drugs which are naturally found in the opium poppy plant and are prescribed by doctors to relieve pain. They are often prescribed to patients who are recovering from surgery, have chronic headaches, or for children who got hurt while playing sports or were involved in auto accidents. They include prescription pain medications such as oxycodone, codeine, morphine, as well as illegal substances like heroin.
How do opioids work?
They work by blocking pain signals between the brain and the body and they also make some people feel relaxed or “high”. How do opioids cause this “high”? They do this by stimulating the release of endorphins (feel-good hormones). These hormones are normally created by the body to decrease pain and boost feelings of pleasure. It is this feeling of pleasure that pushes users to keep going for more. Continuous opioid use increases the release of endorphins and builds up a tolerance. Therefore, abusers tend to increase doses over time. These individuals end up dealing with street vendors, or turn to more dangerous forms of drugs like heroin, once their prescription runs out.
Helpful tips for conversations with your children
As mentioned earlier, one of the most effective ways to tackle the opioid crisis is by teaching your children about its dangers as early as possible. Below are a few helpful tips to help guide you:
- If your children are toddlers, it might not really be wise to start talking about drug abuse and addiction. You can, however, start talking about medicine. Some children enjoy the flavour or taste of medicine. Use that as an opportunity to teach them that medicine is not candy. Teach them that medicine should only be taken under supervision, in small amounts and only when they are sick (except for vitamins). Teach them that taking too much medicine will make them ill.
- Teach your children the importance of taking good care of themselves – hygiene, proper nutrition, regular exercise and getting a good night’s sleep. You can use story-based learning as a teaching tool because it is easier for them to understand stories.
- Have conversations with them about drug-related messages from television ads, cartoons, movies, etc. And ask them questions about drugs so you will know how they know and what they think about drugs.
- Start talking about peer pressure as early as possible. Teach your children how important it is for them to make their own decisions. Teach them how to say no! Children who don’t know how to say “no” are more likely to give in to peer pressure.
- It is also important for you to know who their friends are as well as their friend’s parents.
As they grow older, make it clear that they should stay away from alcohol, illegal drug use and tobacco.