Opioids and heroin are highly addictive drugs that are the cause of many overdoses and deaths. With our nation facing an opioid epidemic, parents and teens, alike, need to become educated about the risks of prescription and illegal opioids. Parents can help reduce the risk of teen drug use by talking to their kids, setting clear expectations, and building Developmental Assets.

The choices young people make about how they act, what they do with their time, and who they will become are not made simply by chance. Their decisions are based upon a web of external and internal influences, including the positive influence of Developmental Assets. Be educated to help your teen navigate the temptations they face.

Opioids Defined

You may hear the terms opiates and opioids used interchangeably. Opiates are drugs derived from the opium, also known as the poppy plant. Opioids refer to the same class of drug, but are made synthetically in a lab. Opioids are powerful painkillers and are often used for medicinal purposes. They can also cause feelings of euphoria for some people. Examples of medicinal opioids include:

  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Tramadol

Heroin is an illegal form of opioids. Another opioid gaining attention is carfentanil, which is typically used as a tranquilizer for large animals.

Risks of Dependence and Addiction

Opioids are commonly prescribed after medical or dental procedures, and a person can become dependent on opioids in as little as 5 days, and the risk of dependency increases with each additional day a person takes the drug. Prescription pills are often considered less dangerous because they are given by a doctor, so teens and young adults will use them or share them, thinking they are safer than other illicit drugs.

When a person is taking a prescription opioid, the body will cease to create its own version of opioids – endorphins. This means the body relies on the opioid drug to feel good. However, the body builds up a tolerance over time and the person will need more and more opioids to feel good.

The Heroin/Prescription Connection

Most people with opioid addictions first use prescription pills – either their own or others. When pills become expensive or unavailable, the person’s body demands that they find another source for opioids. Heroin is cheap and relatively easy to get, so many people turn to heroin. The risk with heroin is that it is frequently “cut” with other drugs, such as fentanyl or carfentanil, which can easily lead to overdose or death.

What You Can Do

  • Talk to your children about the dangers of misusing prescription drugs, including using someone else’s prescription or not following a doctor’s instructions.
  • Watch for signs that your teen is using other substances, like alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana. Most teens and young adults who use opioids began with other substances first.
  • Talk to your doctor about the risks of opioids and alternative methods of managing pain.
  • Keep your prescription drugs locked, and dispose of extras when you are done taking the medication.
  • Learn the signs of drug abuse and symptoms of overdose.
  • Build your teen’s Developmental Assets.

Building Assets Reduces Risk-Taking Behavior

Data from the 2016 Midland County Youth Study reflects how the assets experienced by young people affect the choices they make regarding risk-taking behaviors like smoking or using e-cigarettes.


National Institute of Health: https://www.nih.gov/

National Institute on Drug Abuse: www.drugabuse.gov

Partnership for Drug-Free Kids: www.drugfree.org/heroin