Life & Death Reality of Opioids & Teenagers

Group of teenagers abusing Opioids

At this point, the opioid crisis is well-covered in the media, and it should be. Teenagers abusing opioids and the true reality of death are well documented.

After all, a staggering and heartbreaking 130 irreplaceable individuals die from opioid overdoses per day in America [1]. Sadly, these numbers are only rising, as opioid addiction impacts the lives of more and more individuals and families.

Less touched-upon is the impact that opioid use and addiction have on teens. Below are some facts you need to know to help your teen as they grow up in a culture where opioid use is a challenge they may, unfortunately, face.

What Are Opioids?

You’ve undoubtedly heard the word all over the news, but many are less aware of what an opioid actually is.

Drugs listed under the umbrella of opioids “interact with the opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain, and reduce the intensity of pain signals and feelings of pain [2].”

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention report this includes “the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain medications available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and many others [2].”

How Does This Happen?

For parents, it is especially important to understand the different types of opiates, because how they enter people’s lives may not be as clear as someone offering them heroin and them accepting.

In fact, many attribute teenagers abusing opioids and the national opioid crisis our country is experiencing to the pharmaceutical companies, who, in the 1990s, began peddling opioids to the medical community with the promise that patients would not become addicted to them [1].

Mom And Daughter-Helping A Suicidal TeenAlmost 30-so years later, we know all-too-well how inaccurate that was.

Most individual’s addiction begins innocently with prescribed painkillers. However, owing to the highly addictive properties of these drugs, 21 to 29% of these individuals end up misusing them [1].

4 to 6% of those individuals whose opioid addiction begins with prescription drug misuse then transition to heroin [1].

So, be aware that, unlike marijuana or methamphetamine, it is less likely someone will casually offer this drug to your teen at a party, and more likely they are prescribed it by a doctor.

Teenagers Abusing Opioids

If you were hoping this article would tell you that teens are less impacted by the opioid epidemic, I am sad to tell you that it won’t. 153,000 teenagers ages 12 to 17 reported having an opioid use disorder in the year 2016 [3].

This amount doubles when considering older adolescents and young adults ages 18-25 [4]. Further, in 2015, 4,235 adolescents ages 15-24 died from drug overdoses, with over half of these attributable to teens [4].

There is a bright spot: opioid misuse among teens has decreased in recent years, with misuse of pain medications, heroin included, decreased from 9.5% in 2004 to 3.4% in 2018 [4].

Risk Factors for Teens

These drugs are not to be taken lightly. Risk factors for teenagers abusing opioidsinclude those that experience chronic pain, physical health problems, or a history of depression or substance use issues [4].

Additionally, risk increases if your teen has a family member that died from an overdose or has peers that misuse prescription painkillers [4].

“National data show that nearly half of adolescents ages 12 to 17 who reported misusing pain relievers said they were given or bought them from a friend or relative. This number is over half for young adults ages 18 to 25 who reported misusing pain relievers [4].”

Protective Factors for Teens

Teens discussing Teenagers abusing opioidsThere are also aspects that may protect your child from opioid use disorder, such as your teen being focused on doing well in, and completing, school or showing concern for the misuse of prescription pain killers [4].

Finally, teens that have a close and open relationship with their parents and whose parents voice disapproval of substance use are less likely to become addicted to opioids [4].

The truth is, the opioid crisis is a harrowing challenge that our nation is facing, but various career fields are working to spread the word of the dangers of these drugs and to provide support to those struggling.


[1] National Institute on Drug Abuse (2019). Opioid overdose crisis. National Institute of Health. Retrieved from

[2] (2019). Opioid overdose – commonly used terms. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, retrieved from

[3] National Institute on Drug Abuse (2019). Letter to teens. National Institute of Health. Retrieved from

[4] (2019). Opioids and adolescents. US Department of Health & Human Services, retrieved from

About the Author:

Margot Rittenhouse photoMargot Rittenhouse, MS, NCC, PLPC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on July 4, 2019
Reviewed & Approved by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on July 4, 2019
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Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.