Guest Blogger: Stephanie Manzi, LMHC, program director of Motivating Youth Recovery, a 24-bed acute detoxification and stabilization program for adolescents 13- to 17- years of age located at Community Healthlink in Worcester.
Many parents don’t believe their teen would ever misuse opioids. As someone who works with youth in recovery, however, I’m here to tell you that it can and does happen—even in the “best” of families.
And the kids we see are the lucky ones.
What’s even scarier is that the rate of opioid drug overdose deaths among U.S. teens ages 15 to 19 have taken a turn for the worse. According to a 2017 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of drug overdose deaths in this age group rose 15 percent for males from 2014 to 2015, and 35 percent for females from 2013 to 2015, with heroin being the most common cause of fatal opioid overdose.
There are many factors contributing to these awful statistics, including the emergence of illegally manufactured fentanyl, which can be up to 100 times more potent than morphine. Because fentanyl also is being mixed with other illicit drugs like heroin, a much smaller amount can lead to a deadly overdose very quickly.
What astounds me is the number of kids I see in our program who have never had a conversation with their parents about drugs and their dangers. Factual information from a caring adult can make a huge difference. In fact, research shows that teens who are educated at home about the risks of drug use are 50 percent less likely to use drugs than teens who are not taught about the dangers at home.
This is why parents need to initiate age-appropriate conversations about drug use with their children at all stages of their development in order to help them make the right decisions. It’s like the “sex talk” parents must have with their kids — consider the “drug talk” an essential conversation, too. Don’t be afraid of broaching a heavy topic. Here are some tips for doing so:
- First and foremost, get educated. Learn the facts about what various drugs are and their effects on the body and brain. Even if your teen already knows everything (as many teens think they do), they’re much more likely to listen if you really know what you’re talking about.
- Find out what your teen already knows and is hearing from other sources like friends, social media or websites. Be prepared to counter misinformation with facts.
- If your child asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, say you’ll get it and then have the conversation again.
- Whether you suspect your child is using drugs or you’re just being a proactive parent, speak in a non-accusatory way.
- Get to an emotional place where you feel comfortable having this conversation; maybe that means practicing or role-playing with a friend or your spouse.
- Sometimes your teen will be more receptive to having this conversation with another trusted adult — a babysitter, a “cool” aunt or uncle, or a therapeutic mentor. Enlist their help.
- Remember that this isn’t a one-and-done situation. Have ongoing conversations about the dangers of drug use, like when there’s a story in the news.
It’s also important to know the resources that exist to support you and your family. One of the best organizations I’ve found — and to which I consistently refer parents who are worried about their child doing drugs — is Learn to Cope (www.learn2cope.org). It’s a Massachusetts-based, nonprofit support network that offers education, resources, peer support and hope for parents and family members coping with a loved one addicted to opiates or other drugs. It has become a nationally recognized model for peer support and prevention programming.
And when it comes to treatment, UMass Memorial Community Healthlink has programs specifically for adolescents. The Motivating Youth Recovery (MYR Program) — is a 24-bed acute detoxification and stabilization program for adolescents 13 to 17 years of age (go to www.communityhealthlink.org and click on substance abuse).
Community Healthlink also offers Highland Grace House, a 90-day residential program for young women between 13 and 17 years of age who seek long-term recovery from their substance use addiction/disorder. It’s the only program of its kind in the state. You can check it out via the same link, above.
Bottom line, don’t wait for your teen to bring up the subject of drugs. According to a national study, more than 43 percent of high school seniors report having used drugs at least once in their lifetime. Start a conversation with your teen today. Learn what they already know — and be prepared to share the facts.
This blog post is part of our Simply Women initiative that caters to the unique health care needs of women and their families.