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Parents unaware of opioid risk for adolescents

September 18, 2017
by Tom Valentino, Senior Editor
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Research published this week by Caron Treatment Centers suggests parents aren’t necessarily aware of the risks for adolescents posed by prescription opioids. Clearly, it’s on clinicians to get the message across.

About 13% of parents surveyed say it’s OK for teenagers to occasionally use prescribed painkillers. And while roughly three-quarters of respondents say it’s important to talk with children regarding the dangers of prescription drugs, that figure still lags behind the percentage of respondents who say it’s important to discuss alcohol, illegally obtained drugs or safe sex.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, four out of five individuals with a heroin addiction first used prescription pain medication, a statistic often lost on the public, says Tammy Granger, vice president of education for Caron.

“I don’t think most parents are aware that many individuals who become addicted began in that way,” Granger tells Behavioral Healthcare Executive. “It’s our responsibility to continue to highlight that any time your teen uses a prescription drug, there needs to be a discussion with that prescribing doctor about the risks that might be involved.”

She says teens are receiving painkillers for routine surgeries such as wisdom teeth extraction.

“It puts your child at risk, especially if they are predisposed to addiction issues,” Granger says.

Potential for addiction

Of the adults surveyed, 83% say they believe their doctor has sufficient training and experience to identify and diagnose addiction, and 12% say it is unlikely for an adult to develop an addiction to painkillers prescribed by a physician for a legitimate medical need. According to a 2011 study in the Journal of Pain, however, U.S. medical schools only allot a median of nine hours for teaching on pain and its management, which is 0.3% of total curriculum hours.

Still, efforts are being made to boost training hours in the wake of the opioid epidemic. Last month, for example, the Georgia Composite Medical Board passed a rule requiring all physicians in the state to complete mandatory training on properly prescribing opioids.

The study released by Caron was conducted in April by Harris Poll among 2,184 adults, 692 of which are parents of children between the ages of 6 and 25.