Prescription Painkillers: How to Protect Your Teen

Prescription drug abuse is on the rise, and the addiction to prescription painkillers is a problem that’s growing faster than addictions to street drugs like cocaine or heroin. If you have seen some of the news coverage of America’s opioid epidemic, you may have a picture in your mind of what a prescription drug addict looks like, and there’s a good chance that picture doesn’t look like your teenager.

But the fact is, teenagers are as vulnerable as anyone to the risks of prescription drug abuse and addiction. And just as with adults, many teens begin the road to prescription painkiller addiction with a perfectly legitimate prescription for real pain. There are many reasons why a teen might be prescribed painkillers. They may need pain management after surgery, such as an appendectomy. Wisdom teeth commonly emerge during the teen years and need to be removed, necessitating pain relief. Your teen could sustain an injury playing sports or in a car accident. You certainly don’t want to leave your child in pain, but you also don’t want to risk your teen developing an addiction. As a parent, how can you protect your teen from both unnecessary pain and from addiction? Take a look at some strategies to consider.

Get Information About Alternatives Up Front

Does your teen really need prescription painkillers? It’s worth remembering that prescription painkillers are a go-to for a reason – they work. Forcing your teen to cope with serious pain without giving them the relief that works for them has its own negative consequences. Sometimes prescription painkillers are the way to go. But other times, there are alternatives that can relieve the pain with less risk.

For example, over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or naproxen sodium may be enough for some teens, depending on the source of the pain and your teen’s individual pain tolerance. For injuries, your teen may also benefit from topical treatments like patches or gels. The muscle relaxer Tizanidine can relieve some types of muscle pain without the euphoric effect of opioids or the risk of addiction. Some non-addictive drugs even have off-label uses for pain – for example, the anti-depressant Cymbalta can relieve low-back pain.

Teens who experience chronic pain due to injury or a condition like fibromyalgia may benefit from physical therapy or chiropractic treatments instead of prescription opioids. Some types of headaches, including migraines, can be effectively treated with Botox injections. You may also want to consider non-standard treatments like acupuncture, which some people find to be an effective way to relieve pain.

Talk to your teen’s doctor about the pain treatment strategies other than prescription opioids that may work for your teen, and consider trying one or more of those options before filling a prescription for painkillers. If painkiller alternatives don’t work or aren’t enough by themselves, you can always fill the prescription if you need to.

In some cases, you may be able to prevent your teen from needing any sort of pain plan. For example, while wisdom tooth removal is a common surgery for teens, not all dentists routinely remove wisdom teeth as soon as they emerge anymore. Some advocate for taking a wait-and-see approach, opting to leave the wisdom teeth where they are unless they become infected or begin causing problems for the other teeth. This means that some teens can avoid wisdom tooth surgery – and the need for painkillers – altogether. When it comes to scheduled surgeries or dental work, it’s worth asking your teen’s doctor if there’s an alternative that won’t require pain treatment at all.

Monitor Your Teen’s Usage of Prescription Painkillers

If you, your teen, and your teen’s doctor do decide that prescription painkillers are the best choice for your teen, there are still things you can do to protect your teen from addiction. One of the most important things you can do is monitor your teen’s painkiller usage.

Make sure that your doctor or pharmacist explains the proper dosage and the instructions for administering the medicine, as well as how often your teen should take it, and ensure that those instructions are followed. Prescription painkillers are strong and are often supposed to be taken six, eight, or even ten hours apart. However, if your teen starts feeling pain before the next scheduled dose, they may feel tempted to take it sooner or take more in order to avoid feeling more pain later. Many adults struggle with this kind of temptation, and impulsive teens may be at even greater risk for ignoring the doctor’s instructions when they’re in pain. You can help by keeping the medication yourself in order to make sure that your teen takes it as prescribed.

Get Rid of Old Meds

Often, when prescription painkillers are prescribed for an injury or surgery, the pain fades before the prescription is used up. It can be tempting to keep unfinished pain prescriptions around “just in case”. After all, you don’t throw a bottle of aspirin away when your headache is gone – you keep the rest for when you have another headache. If you’re used to being thrifty with your household budget, it can be especially difficult to get rid of a perfectly good bottle of unused medication.

However, when it comes to prescription painkillers, it’s best to get rid of them once the condition they were prescribed for is resolved – especially when the prescription is for your teen. You don’t want your teen turning to that unused prescription painkiller for a minor pain at a later point – and it’s very easy for a teen to reason that since the prescription painkiller helped them when they had a broken bone, for example, why not use it to relieve the pain of a headache or twisted ankle?

Your best bet is to find an official drop-off location – some pharmacies offer this service – or dispose of the meds safely at home. It’s recommended that you mix unwanted medications in a plastic bag or container with undesirable substances like kitty litter or coffee grounds before putting them in the trash.

Prescription painkillers serve an important purpose in pain relief, but they also come with significant risks. Express your concerns about addiction and abuse to your teen’s doctor or pharmacist and work with them to find a way to manage your teen’s pain while minimizing the risk to your teen.