Teen Opioid Abuse and Opioid Addiction

Posted on 30. May, 2014 by in Alcohol & Drug Abuse

Scan the Internet and you’re likely to find long articles, news stories, and web casts on America’s drug epidemic. More and more teens are getting hooked on opioids. It’s a common scenario: a teen gets hurt. Their physical pain requires the use of and a prescription for painkillers. Yet, over time, an addiction develops. Over time, they need the drug physiologically and even psychologically.

Randy, who is now 33 and living in Southern California, was happily married and working at a rewarding job. But when he was 26, he got into a serious motorcycle accident, and his recovery required painkillers. Long after the accident, he continues to struggle with an addiction. He was recently arrested for the illegal possession of prescription drugs and remains in jail to this day.

Paul, age 29, lives in Cape Cod and suffers from an opiate addiction. He’s already completed three prison sentences because of his addiction. His mother, who once had hope for Paul’s recovery, has lost any faith in her son’s ability to find sobriety. Much of the news articles and stories around the country indicate America’s heroin addiction, which is none other than America’s opioid addiction. Opioids are prescription drugs and heroin is a street drug.

Boston Celtics player Chris Herren also struggled with an opiate addiction and nearly lost his life. He told his dynamic story to a Cape Cod school and shortly afterward received over one hundred emails from teens that were facing the deadly cycle of addiction and even considering suicide.

If you’re new to the relationships between drugs, it’s important to know that heroin is an opioid. It’s synthesized from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seedpod of the Asian poppy plant. Heroin can be injected or inhaled by snorting or sniffing or smoking it. Symptoms of using the drug include red or raw nostrils, needle marks or scars on arms, wearing long sleeves at inappropriate times, and medicinal breath. Physical evidence might include cough syrup, bottles, syringes, cotton swabs, and spoons for heating heroin. Long-term symptoms are loss of appetite, constipation, brain damage, and damage to the central nervous system.

Common forms of opioids, in the form of painkillers, include oxycodone, hydrocodone, diphenoxylate, morphine, codeine, and methadone. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a recent study covering the years 2002-2006 indicates that 7 out of 10 adolescents who are using opioids for non-medical purposes have combined opioids with other drugs and/or alcohol in the last year. Marijuana (58.5% of teens surveyed) and alcohol (52.1% of teens surveyed) were the most common drugs to be combined with opioid use, followed by cocaine (10.6%), tranquilizers (10.3%), and amphetamines (9.5%). Other results of the study include:

  • Teens who reported taking opioids with other drugs were 8 times more likely to report abusing marijuana than non-users of opioids.
  • Teens who reported taking opioids with other drugs were 4 times more likely to report being drunk than non-users of opioids.
  • 24% of teens reported that they usually or always combined the non-medical use of opioids with marijuana.
  • 15% of teens reported that they usually or always combined the non-medical use of opioids with alcohol.

There are a few forms of treatment for an addiction to heroin and opioids, some of which include medication which block the opiate receptors in the brain. An example of this is the non-addictive drug Vivitrol. Another form of treatment is the emergency drug, Naloxone, which aids in saving lives when someone who is in the middle of a heroin overdose. In general, however, the treatment for those with an opioid/heroin addiction need to undergo clinical, supervised detoxification in order to manage the withdrawal symptoms. Research has shown that the best combination of treatment include medication to manage the withdrawal symptoms as well as therapy to address the behavioral and psychological issues that contributed to the addiction in the first place.

Yet, the question is not so much how to treat teen opioid abuse but what is creating the cycle of addiction in so many teens across America.  What are the underlying issues that are causing addiction in our teens? And what can we do to prevent addiction in the first place?   Once these questions are answered perhaps we will see less addiction, fewer suicide attempts, and more lives saved.



Myers, K. C. (2014, March 4). Facing Cape Cod’s drug addiction crisis. Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, MA).

(April 2013) Drug Facts: Heroin. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved on May 2, 2014 from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin



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