Have the Talk: A Mom's Guide to Discussing Opioids with Your Daughter

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As the mother of a pre-teen or teenage daughter, you know your little girl is trying to figure out who she is and where she belongs in the world. You know she may be facing pressure from her friends to "fit in" and "be cool."

You know because you went through it too, when you were her age. But your daughter's world is different than the one you grew up in.

Yes, she's hearing her classmates and friends talk about their weekend activities in person. But she's also seeing them post pictures and videos of themselves having fun on Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok – and she's probably comparing herself to the filtered version of their lives. Maybe she's even feeling a little left out and wondering what she's missing out on.

There's no question that the digital age has exacerbated the social pressures that come with adolescence. It's hard for teens to make healthy choices when they think "all" their peers are experimenting with drugs and alcohol.

But the biggest danger to your daughter isn't necessarily the peer pressure – it's the ease of access and lack of awareness about the risks of substance use, especially when it comes to opioids.

 Why are opioids such a danger to young women?

Opioid use in America is indeed a public health crisis, and women have been hit the hardest. Countless studies and reports have shown that women are increasingly using and overdosing on opioids at a faster rate than men. The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that mortality rates from an opioid overdose increased more than 500% for women between 1999 and 2016, while opioid-related deaths among men during that period increased 321%.

A number of biological, hormonal, psychological, and emotional factors have contributed to this disproportionate impact on women. The CDC reports that women are more likely than men to experience chronic pain, and often use prescription pain medications for longer periods and in higher doses. Additionally, 65% of all U.S. opioid prescriptions are given to women.

Teens are often not aware of all the risk factors involved with opioid use. They may believe that because pain medication is prescribed by a doctor, it's safe for them to use. Here are a few statistics on teenage views of prescription medication, from DrugFree.org:

  • 56% of teens say it's easy to get prescription drugs from their parent's medicine cabinet.
  • 42% of teens who have misused or abused prescription medication got it from their parent's medicine cabinet.
  • Just 16% of teens say their parents specifically discussed prescription pain relievers in their last conversation about substance abuse, compared to 80% who discussed alcohol and 81% who discussed marijuana.

 What is being done to address opioid misuse among women?

There are many programs and grants on the local, state, and national level that are designed to address the opioid crisis. One that is geared toward prevention of use and misuse among women is a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health.

In 2017, the HHS awarded roughly $100,000 each to 16 public and private nonprofits in 12 states over a three-year period. Each of the selected recipients used the funds to address the prevention of prescription and illegal opioid misuse by women across the lifespan.

Wellspring Center for Prevention (then known as the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence of Middlesex County) was one HHS recipient. In the three years since receiving this grant, we have worked on many initiatives to encourage healthy choices among girls ages 10 to 17, and even created a peer-to-peer PSA campaign about opioid use.

How do I talk to my daughter about opioids? 

Like any discussion about making healthy choices, talking to your adolescent girl about opioid use must be handled carefully. It's important to approach it from the angle of education and open discussion, not accusation or threats.

To help you tackle this difficult but important talk with your daughter, we've listed a few important things to tell her:

  • 1."Just because it's prescribed to you, doesn't mean it's completely safe." If your daughter is prescribed painkillers for an injury or surgery, remind her that she should follow her doctor's instructions precisely and only take the minimum amount of opioids she needs, for the shortest period of time (the Mayo Clinic says opioids are safest when used for three days or less). Remember, it doesn't take long for an opioid addiction to start, but it can take months or years of recovery to get sober.
  • 2."If it wasn't prescribed to you, don't take it." According to SAMHSA, 53% of people ages 12 and older obtained prescription painkillers for nonmedical use from a friend or relative. Dosages are determined by doctors based on the patient's age and body type; taking someone else's prescribed dosage can be dangerous or even deadly.
  • 3."If you see a friend overdose on opioids, you won't get in trouble for calling 911." New Jersey's Overdose Prevention Act (also called the "Good Samaritan law"), has been in effect since 2013. Anyone who seeks medical help for someone experiencing a drug overdose will not be arrested, charge, prosecuted, or convicted for possession or being under the influence of an illegal drug or controlled substance.
  • 4."You can always come to me with any questions about substance use." Your daughter should know you're there for her, both as her mother and as a trusted resource to address her questions and fears. If she's confident she can discuss this topic openly with you, without fear of judgment or punishment, she will feel supported and understood – and that can make all the difference in her decisions regarding substance use.

You can find additional tips on discussing opioids with your children from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

We rely on the generosity of our community to continue our prevention efforts in Middlesex and Monmouth County. If you'd like to help, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to Wellspring Center for Prevention.

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