A doctor prescribes opioid pain medication to a teenage girl
Published On: June 3, 2020|Categories: Teens and Young Adults|

Prescription opioid abuse has gained a lot of attention in the media lately due to the national opioid epidemic. As a parent, you may be concerned when a doctor prescribes opioid pain medication for your child. Whether for injury, surgery, or chronic pain, opioids can be effective methods of pain relief. However, there are certain precautions that must be taken to prevent abuse and addiction.

What Types of Opioids Could a Doctor Prescribe?

There are a variety of opioid medications available, including:

  • Hydrocodone/Vicodin® (sometimes with acetaminophen)
  • Oxycodone/OxyContin®/Percodan®/Percocet®  (sometimes with acetaminophen)
  • Codeine
  • Morphine/Kadian®/Avinza® 
  • Fentanyl/Duragesic® 
  • Diphenoxylate/Lomotil® 
  • Propoxyphene/Darvon® 
  • Hydromorphone/Dilaudid® 
  • Meperidine/Demerol®
  • Methadone

Prescriptions may come in pills or liquid form. In some cases, people receive the medication through an IV while in the hospital.

Are Prescription Opioids Safe for Teens?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that prescription opioids are safe when taken for a short time as prescribed by a doctor, but there is potential for misuse. Opioids are powerful drugs that bind to receptors in the brain and may change the way your brain works if you use them long-term.

Teens are at increased risk of misuse and addiction because their brains are still developing. The prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain used in decision making and impulse control, is not fully developed until the mid-20s. This makes teenagers more susceptible to risky behaviors such as substance abuse.

What Are the Risks of Prescription Opioids?

Opioids are classified as Schedule II controlled substances by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). This means they have a high potential for abuse and may lead to dependence. If opioids are taken for longer than necessary or in a way other than as prescribed by a medical professional, they may lead to:

  • Tolerance – needing more of a drug to get the same effect
  • Dependence – not being able to stop taking a drug due to a physical or psychological need for its effects
  • Addiction – continuing to obtain and use a substance despite negative consequences
  • Overdose or death

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

If your doctor prescribes an opioid for your teen, you should ask these questions to make sure you have all the information you need to keep your child safe:

  • What amount is being prescribed, and is that amount necessary?
  • How long should my child take this medication?
  • Could a different pain reliever be appropriate, such as a combination of over-the-counter acetaminophen and a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID)?
  • Are there alternative treatments such as physical therapy or biofeedback therapy?
  • What is the risk of abuse for this particular medication?
  • Should my child be screened for addiction risk factors?

How to Keep Your Teen Safe from Opioid Abuse

As a parent or guardian, you can be proactive about preventing opioid abuse. Take these steps to ensure your child uses prescription opioids safely and other family members are kept safe as well.

Educate Your Teen About the Risk of Abuse or Addiction

Talk to your child about prescription drug abuse. Make sure they understand the importance of taking medication as prescribed by a doctor, and that they should never share their medication with others. Also teach your child the warning signs of prescription drug addiction.

Store Prescriptions Safely

Store medication in a secure place, such as a locked cabinet or drawer. Don’t leave prescription opioids in a medicine cabinet that anyone can access.

Supervise Medication Use

Supervise your teen as they take their medication. You can help them count out the number of pills and make sure you lock the opioids up again after your child has taken their dose for the day. Also keep track of how much medication is left in the bottle and whether there are pills missing – this could indicate abuse. 

Monitor your child’s level of pain and talk to their doctor about when it’s safe to stop using the pain medication.

Safely Dispose of Unused Medication

When it is time to stop taking the medication, make sure you dispose of it safely. It’s best to bring unused medication to a prescription drug takeback event or location. If that is not available, then mix the medication with an unpleasant substance such as coffee grounds or cat litter and throw it in the trash.

Signs of Prescription Opioid Abuse in Teens

While many teens take prescription opioids safely, you should watch out for signs that your child may be abusing their opioid medication. These include both physical symptoms and psychological or behavioral symptoms.


  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slowed/shallow breathing
  • Loss of coordination


  • Sleep disturbances (sleeping too much or too little)
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Loss of motivation
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Asking for more medication after taking the dosage for the day
  • Wanting to refill a medication even though their doctor says it is not necessary
  • Taking medication in secret; not letting you supervise them

What if I Suspect My Child Is Abusing Opioids?

If you are concerned that your teen is abusing a prescription opioid, you should talk to their doctor about it immediately. It’s also a good idea to seek a substance abuse evaluation from a mental health provider. Trained clinicians are familiar with the signs of substance abuse and addiction. They can let you know if your teen needs counseling for drug abuse.

Rehab After Work helps teens and young adults who are struggling with substance abuse and addiction. We provide substance use assessments to determine what interventions are appropriate. Our evidence-based counseling methods help adolescents overcome their substance use and learn healthy coping skills. Call us at (610) 644-6464 to inquire about our services. Right now, we’re offering all programs through teletherapy because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

HFC Tip of the DayCreative Therapies for Life Stress: Tip of the Day
A female college student slumps over a pile of booksCommon Mental Health Disorders in College Students