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A girl sits and thinks about her addiction to opioid painkillers

How does opioid teen drug abuse start? Learn how America’s youth are being exposed to opioids & what every parent can do to stop or prevent opioid abuse.

The opioid crisis has ravished our nation for over 15 years, and slowly but surely America’s youth got caught in the vicious tailspin of it all.

While today’s youth are smart, tech-savvy and incredibly resourceful, they are also very inexperienced and uneducated about the origins of substance use and ease in which addiction can set in.

They are vulnerable and impressionable, ignoring the very real danger of opioid use under the guise of harmless experimentation. Above all though, they are curious, daring and more than willing to allow their curiosity to lead them down dangerous avenues of maladaptive social influences and prescription pain pill abuse.

But how are today’s youth being exposed to opioids in the first place? How are they getting their hands on these dangerous painkillers? How are some teens, and even adolescents, able to keep a relatively consistent supply?

Where Does Teen Drug Abuse Start?

Teen drug abuse can happen right under our noses. Here are common, prominent ways teens and drug addiction collide:

The Over Prescription of Opioids from Medical Professionals

The opioid epidemic can be traced back to doctors overprescribing opioid painkillers to patients without proper protocol or procedure. Whether a patient experienced a severe injury, underwent surgery or suffered from chronic pain, opioid-based prescription pain pills have been the number one source of prescribed relief.

This detrimental trend has led to two unfortunate outcomes: patients becoming addicted to their pain medication due to the longevity or their use, or patients with an abundance of pain pills in their medicine cabinet once they no longer needed the pain medication.

Parents with Excess Painkillers at Home

No parent ever thinks they could be the biggest contributor to their children coming into contact with opioids. For many cases in the teen opioid epidemic, however, this is where it starts. While the origin of the prescriptions may seem innocuous enough, the lack of oversight and responsible management of the substance can easily result in tragedy.

Unlike prior generations where dad’s liquor cabinet was routinely raided before going to a party, teens today have upped the ante by sneaking into whichever prescriptions they may find around the home. These actions can result in dangerous experimentation with opioids or even low-level methods of drug distribution among friends. In either case, the teen gained access to opioids on their parent’s watch, which could have been avoided with proper prescription management and disposal.

Children with a Personal Opioid Prescription

Teens involved in school or community-based sports is nothing out of the ordinary. Sometimes, when a severe injury occurs to these youth, an opioid-based pain pill is prescribed. In addition, a teenager finding themselves in a situation where surgery or medically appropriate pain management is necessary, copious amounts of pain medication may be prescribed over a very short amount of time.

In situations such as these, when the prescribing physician is careless with their description of the pain medication and fails to discuss the potential for addiction associated with opioid pain pills, the seeds of addiction get planted. Making matters worse, when a doctor hands over a dangerous narcotic to a teenager and their family with no follow-up whatsoever, the potential for overuse and abuse of that substance increases exponentially.

Peer Influence and Teen Drug Abuse

As stated in prior sections, access to an abundance of dangerous opioid pain pills can spell disaster in a number of ways. In addition to personal consumption and abuse, teens using extra pain medication as a means to make money has grown in popularity. These types of actions have become commonplace within schools around the country, leading to an increase in both dangerous experimentation with opioids and early onset opioid addiction.

Opioid Drug Use in Teens: What the Data Currently Says

The recent efforts of physicians to shorten the dose period of prescription painkillers and improve communication with patients are helping to better identify early onset addiction. These trends and improved practices are returning positive results. In fact, there’s been a significant decline in the misuse of prescription opioids among teens over the past 15 years.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, teens are experiencing less availability to prescription painkillers, which is leading to historic lows of opioid misuse among today’s youth. In 2017, only 35.8 percent of high school seniors said prescription painkillers were easy to obtain, versus 54 percent in 2010.

While this is good news, the opioid epidemic is far from over.

What Every Parent and Adult Can Do to Decrease or Prevent Opioid Teen Drug Abuse

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), many teens think prescription painkillers are much safer than illegal street drugs simply because they’re prescribed by a doctor.

Education on drug abuse and addiction are severely lacking. Children and teens enter the opioid crisis innocently enough, but lack the fundamental knowledge regarding the ease of addiction and how quickly opioid dependence can set in.

Here’s what every parent can do to stop or prevent their child from abusing opioids:

  • Closely monitor all pain medications coming into the home. This will prevent pills from going missing and aid in proper disposal of unused medications in a timely fashion.
  • Fostering an open and honest level of communication within the home so that every child feels comfortable discussing topics such as substance abuse and addiction.

Prescription Drug Addiction Treatment at Covenant Hills

The opioid crisis is a serious, life-threatening epidemic. If you think your loved one is being exposed to opioids from a peer or other source, or if you suspect they’re already abusing opioid-based painkillers, the time has come to get to the bottom of what’s going on. Crucial steps must be taken to help your loved one get clean.

At Covenant Hills, we believe that every addiction can be stopped. It is our utmost mission to help your loved one return to the person they were made to be. Through our faith-based addiction rehab program, we work one-on-one with our clients and help them center their minds, revive their bodies and awaken their souls. We help them put an end to their drug epidemic.

Learn about our gender-specific, faith-based opioid addiction treatment program, or contact us for a free and confidential assessment.


Greene, Jonathan. Richmond Register. Report: 1 in 7 students has misused opioids. Accessed July 2, 2018.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. Vaping popular among teens; opioid misuse at historic lows. Accessed July 2, 2018.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Rise in Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse Impacting Teens. Accessed July 2, 2018.