Ep 233: The Opioid Crisis: What Parents Need to Know

Ep 233: The Opioid Crisis: What Parents Need to Know

Holly Geyer, author of Ending the Crisis: Mayo Clinic’s Guide to Opioid Addiction and Safe Opioid Use, joins us to shine light on the ways the opioid crisis might affect our teens. We discuss the effects of opioids on the body, how we can detect if teens are using them, and what we can say to teens who might be at risk for opioid addiction.

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Full show notes

Many of us picture drug addiction as a vague threat, something that might be a possibility for an unhoused person or party animal but never for our own kids. When we hear concerns about the opioid crisis, we might wave it off as a problem that most likely could never affect us. We typically think that even if kids party a little,–say, experiment with marijuana or alcohol-that they’ll probably come out on the other end just fine.

But what we don’t realize is just how susceptible our kids are to opioid use. Nowadays, traces of opioids are found in marijuana, cocaine, or even candy. They’re in millions of medicine cabinets, available on the streets in alarming quantities, and have been prescribed to nearly a third of adults in the United States. If we want our kids to stay safe from the opioid crisis, it’s time to educate ourselves–and our kids.

To help us wrap our heads around the severity of this crisis, we’re talking to Holly Geyer, author of Ending the Crisis: Mayo Clinic’s Guide to Opioid Addiction and Safe Opioid Use. Holly is an addiction medicine specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona, where she leads the Arizona Opioid Stewardship Program. She’s served on several Arizona department of health subcommittees, works with a number of organizations to raise opioid awareness, and lectures nationally on opioid addiction and safe opioid prescribing.

In our interview, we’re explaining what opioids are and how they affect the human body. We also discuss how we can look for signs of opioid abuse in our kids, and what we can say to kids who might be at risk of an opioid addiction.

What Parents Need to Know About Opioids

As an opioid expert, Holly is often asked: what’s the difference between opioids and opiates? In the episode, she explains that opiates are derived from the poppy plant, while opioids are synthetically created to mimic the effects of opiates. To the average person, the terminologies are basically interchangeable, she explains. It is important to remember, however, that opioids are often created in illicit environments, meaning that they’re usually not regulated and could be a lot more dangerous than opiates, Holly says.

These “painkillers” cause a sense of euphoria and often make us feel as though our troubles are slipping away–until they stop working and our body begins to crave more and more. As our usage grows, so does our tolerance, explains Holly. If taken exactly as prescribed, we might be relatively safe from the serious threat of addiction, but if we crush and snort it, inject it or take more than we’re supposed to, the results can be deadly. In fact, opioids are now the leading cause of death for people under 45.

How can taking opiods be fatal? Overdose, explains Holly. Overdose occurs when an individual consumes so much of an opioid that they become overly sedated, to the point where they forget to breathe, she says. If you suspect someone is taking opiods and they seem sleepy, cold or unintelligible in their speech, they might be overdosing. In the episode, Holly and I lay out a number of actions we can take if we’re presented with an overdosing individual–including an immediate dial of 911 and a dose of naloxone.

It’s pretty clear that opioid addiction is not something we’d want to encounter, especially in our own families. But how can we actively work towards preventing these tragic outcomes? Holly explains in the episode.

How To Tell If Your Teen is At Risk

Teen opioid addiction is no joke. Rates of teen opioid use are skyrocketing, Holly explains. If your teen starts using young, has a history of meddling with other substances, deals with mental health issues or experiences chronic pain, the risk is even higher. Even if you’ve never brought prescription opioids into the house, kids are often exposed when trying a different drug that happens to be laced. So how can we look out for signs that teens are using opioids before it’s too late?

Holly explains that teens who are using opioids might typically start to become a bit more withdrawn. They may start to appear less engaged in school or other daily activities, and then they may start stealing or disappearing for long periods of time, says Holly. That’s when parents may find drug paraphernalia hidden in their sock drawer. Another indicator is the kind of company they keep; if they seem to be hanging around a sketchier crowd, she recommends watching their behavior even more closely.

If you’ve got extra opioids lying around in your cabinet that you’re storing for safe-keeping, Holly explains that it’s time to get rid of them. Maybe they were prescribed for a surgery or an injury and there’s plenty left over that you're keeping for a rainy day–but they’ve got to go, she explains. Many times, teens start with these easily available pills and move on to harder or less regulated versions. In our interview, we talk about all the ways these pills can be safely destroyed or removed from your home.

One of the main ways we can prevent opioid addiction in our kids is by communication and education. In the episode, Holly lays out how we can talk to teens before, during, or after discovering an opioid use.

Preventing Opioid Addiction

If we want our kids to steer clear of drug use, the first step is changing the overarching culture and attitude in our homes. If we’re practicing a “take pills to solve your problems” mentality around the house whenever something is in pain or not working quite right, we might be unintentionally inflicting an addictive mentality onto our kids. Instead, Holly encourages us to be more of an “approach things heads-on” kind of mentality, where we talk about our issues and find proactive ways to solve them. She and I discuss the significance of this approach further in the episode.

Holly also emphasizes the value of reminding teens that no matter how free they might feel, we are always monitoring their behavior. She recommends that we not only keep an eye on our teens, but also they’re friends, their behaviors, and if necessary, their phones and physical space. She stresses that today’s world isn’t quite safe for experimentation the way our adolescence might have been, and how even alcohol or cannabis use could lead to opioid use.

In our interview, Holly and I also talk a lot about what to do when we confirm that a teen is struggling with opioid addiction. Sometimes teens are willing to go into rehab and sometimes they aren’t, but it’s interesting to note that most of the time, the outcome is the same. While recovery is possible, relapse is almost always a part of the process, she says, which can sometimes make treatment options logistically and financially difficult. We talk in depth about treatment options as we dive further into opioid use and abuse education.

In the Episode…

There’s a lot of critical information about opioid use in this week’s episode. On top of the topics discussed above, we also talk about:
  • Why opioids actually make chronic pain worse
  • How parents suffer when teens face addiction
  • Why we may be enabling drug use more than we think
  • How opioid use became a crisis in the first place
We hope this episode encourages you to learn more about opioid use and abuse. Please check out resources offered by the Center for Disease Control and National Institute of Health.

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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Holly Geyer, MD
Holly Geyer, MD
#Addictionmedicine specialist, researcher, & healthcare policy advocate, helping individuals & communities discover #safeopioiduse & end #opioidcrisis.