Prescription Opioids and Teens: How to Prevent Misuse

Prescription opioids and abuse by teens is a real problem, and it doesn’t just affect adults. 

Drugs have always been a concern for parents of teenagers. But these days, parents often miss one of the bigger drug-related risks that could affect their teenagers and eventually contribute to the opioid crisis.

Many teens aren’t trying drugs that they bought from shadowy dealers on the street or encountered at a wild unsupervised party; instead, they’re trying drugs that they find in their own medicine cabinets or receive from ordinary pharmacies.

In some cases, those drugs might even be legitimately prescribed to the teenager in question. But that doesn’t make them any less dangerous if they’re misused. 

The risk of teen opioid abuse and addiction is immense, and learning how to prevent misuse can potentially save your teen from a lot of hardship.

Consider Alternate Pain Relief Options First

It’s not uncommon for a teen’s initial exposure to opioids to be a prescription bottle with their own name on it.

Dental work is a common reason for a teen to be prescribed painkillers. Sports injuries and other accidents can also leave teens with a temporary need for pain relief.

Most parents don’t think to question their doctor or dentist’s prescription for their teen – after all, you don’t want to see your child in pain, and if it’s medicine prescribed by a doctor, it must be safe, right?

However, it’s not always safe. It’s very easy for a teen who’s experiencing pain to misuse a prescription painkiller.

They don’t have to be intending to get high – they may just pop an extra pill because they want to ensure that they can sleep, or because their pain level is particularly high at that moment. But as addictive as opioids can be, this type of behavior isn’t safe, no matter what the intention is.

Opioids are certainly safe and appropriate for some conditions when used as prescribed, but they can become very dangerous as soon as your teen begins to deviate from the prescribed regimen.

One way to minimize your teen’s chances of misusing an opioid prescription is to avoid that prescription in the first place.

While it’s common for both doctors and patients to opt for prescription painkillers first and only explore other pain relief options if the painkillers don’t work or cause problems, it’s worth trying the opposite approach. If your teen is injured or recovering from dental surgery, ask their doctor what opioid-free pain relief alternatives are available to them, and ask to try those first.

Think of opioids as a last resort if all else fails, not the first stop.

How Does My Child Succumb to Prescription Opioids?

Even if your teen is never prescribed opioids, they may still find them in their own home first, often because they’ve been prescribed to someone else in the home.

There could be any number of reasons why a teen might take a prescription pain pill that wasn’t meant for them.

They may have a severe headache or minor, but painful, injury and reason that if over the counter drugs aren’t doing the job, maybe a prescription painkiller will. They may be stressed and looking for something to help them relax.

Alternatively, they might be curious about drugs and looking for a way to experiment.

Sometimes teens assume that opioids must be less dangerous than street drugs because they’re made in a lab and distributed by a pharmacist. And this isn’t entirely illogical – it’s hard to know how strong a drug is when you’re buying it on the street, and it’s certainly hard to guarantee the quality of the ingredients in an illegal drug.

Prescription drugs are generally made from high-quality ingredients and have their dosage clearly spelled out on the label. But that doesn’t make them safe, especially if they’re not being taken as prescribed or by the person they were prescribed to.

Keep Prescription Opioids Out of Reach From Teens

Limit the temptation to just try prescription opioids by keeping them out of your teen’s reach.

If someone in the home must take opioids, avoid storing the prescription in commonly-accessed areas of the house and consider locking them up.

If your teen is prescribed opioids for some reason, administer the medication yourself – on the schedule and at the dosage prescribed by the doctor – and avoid leaving the medication with your teen.

Talk to Other Parents About Prescription Opioid Abuse

Of course, not all teens find drugs at home. But teens who can’t find opioids in their own homes may still come across them in friends’ homes or be offered them by a friend who does have access.

Talking to the parents of the other teens that your teen is friends with may be of some help. Over the years, you’ve probably had occasion to talk to the parents of your child’s friends about any number of safety issues.

Before you agreed to playdates or sleepovers when your teen was younger, you might have asked about unsecured guns in the house or the presence of things that your child is allergic to.

If your small child asked to go swimming with a friends’ family, you probably asked whether they would be supervised constantly while in the water. As your child grew older, you might have asked other parents about their practices for storing or serving alcohol in the home.

Think of asking about prescription opioids as a similar safety issue that parents need to be comfortable talking about with one another.

It’s understandable that you might want to avoid asking about prescription drugs in the home for fear of seeming intrusive or judgmental, but if you approach it as a conversation between concerned parents about the safety of your teens, you may find that other parents share your concerns.

Parents who aren’t aware of the risks that opioids pose to teens may even appreciate hearing the information you have to share.

Commonly Asked Questions

How Might My Teen Inadvertently Be Exposed to Opioids?

Teen opioid exposure commonly stems from household prescription painkillers that may be prescribed following dental work, sports related injuries, etc.

How Can I Keep My Teen From Finding Opioids in Other Locations?

Communicate with other parents regarding prescription opioids that may be found in the home. Or, consider alternate pain relief options like NSAIDs found over the counter.

Should I Hide Prescription Opioids in My Own Home?

Yes, prescription painkillers should only be used by the prescribed patient. To avoid temptation from your teen, keep all prescriptions in a safe place.


Of course, it’s also important to talk to your own teen about the risks of teen opioid abuse, the same way you would talk to them about the risks of drinking alcohol, smoking, driving recklessly, or doing other drugs.

Be honest and informative, and let your teen know that they should come to you if they have concerns.