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(Phoenix, AZ, November 21, 2017)
Amid a growing national crisis, two-thirds of Arizona parents believe prescription pain medication abuse is a problem among 14- to 18-year-olds – and 40 percent worry that their children will use the drugs, many of which are opioids, recreationally, according to a new survey by Dignity Health in Arizona.
The parents’ concerns are based in reality: 25 percent of Arizona teens who have been prescribed pain medication admit that they have used opioids without a doctor’s consent, the survey found, and 18 percent agreed that it is okay to take more than the prescribed dosage if they felt greater pain than usual.
“We see teenagers in our emergency room all the time who are suffering from opioid addiction. It is tragic for them and for their parents,” says Dr. Sandra Indermuhle, the director of Emergency Services at Dignity Health Chandler Regional Hospital. “I believe strongly that one of the keys in preventing these cases is communication. Parents need to let their kids know that this is a problem in the community and that it is very dangerous.”
In 2016, 790 deaths in Arizona were directly attributed to opioids – a 74 percent increase from 2012, according to a 2016 report by the Arizona Department of Health Services. The report predicted that by 2019, more than 1,000 people in Arizona will die annually from opioids.
Experts say that opioids are generally safe when used as prescribed by a doctor. But because they can produce euphoria, they may be abused.
Despite the risks presented by powerful painkillers, nearly three-quarters of Arizona parents said they would allow their teens to take them when it is related to surgery, which is the No. 1 reason teenagers are prescribed pain medications (39 percent of teen prescriptions).
As the public’s understanding of opioid drug abuse grows, two-thirds of parents say they have talked about it with their children. But it isn’t their most pressing concern: more have talked to their kids about bullying (85 percent), sexual assault (84 percent) and marijuana use (80 percent), the survey found.
Half of parents would allow painkillers for sports injuries and nearly that many (44 percent) would authorize them for acute or short-term pain. That attitude may contribute to a greater risk of opioid addiction among high school athletes.
“Because high school athletes can experience injuries, they are more likely to be prescribed opioids,” says Dr. Javier Cárdenas, a sports neurologist and director of the Concussion and Brain Injury Center at Barrow Neurological Institute. “Pressure to get back in the game can lead to increased use of prescription opioids to manage pain. Athletes are at greater risk to engage in recreational use of opioids because of the physical and emotional stresses of high-level competition and the injuries associated with it.”
Barrow Neurological Institute, part of Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, is developing an opioid education program that is similar to the successful Barrow Brainbook, which all Arizona high school student-athletes must pass before participating in sports. The opioid education program is being created in collaboration with the Arizona Interscholastic Association, Maricopa County Health Department and Arizona Department of Health Services. A pilot of the program is underway in Tempe Union High School District.
Dr. Indermuhle and her team are also participating in the fight against opioid addiction by partnering with the Chandler/Gilbert Substance Misuse and Treatment Task Force to help educate members of the community about the dangers of substance use disorders, and ways to prevent addictions. As part of the task force, Dr. Indermuhle is educating her medical team to pay close attention when prescribing medications and helping guide patients with chronic pain to other types of resources.
“One of the main points I try to impress on my patients with chronic pain is the alternatives to high dose pain medications,” says Dr. Indermuhle. “Pain medication is not the only answer to help these patients.”
The web-based survey was conducted from July 14 through 31, 2017, and targeted teens between 14 and 18 years of age and parents of that age group. It sampled 313 teens, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5.5 percent, and 201 parents, with a margin of error of plus or minus 6.9 percent.