One of the tragic legacies of the COVID-19 pandemic is the staggering number of deaths that have resulted from addiction and lethal experimentation with illicit drugs.
Recent information released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics reported a disturbing record: More than 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses during in a single year of the pandemic. Many of the victims being teenagers and young adults.
Yet, even as the epidemic of addiction surges across the country, there are things parents can do to help their children avoid getting caught up in this dangerous trend.
Cassie Miles, LCMFT, a therapist with Centrus Health Kansas City partner AdventHealth Shawnee Mission answers questions and offers guidance to parents.
Why are children turning to these drugs?
Children and adults alike turn to drugs, including opiates, for several reasons. There can be underlying genetic predispositions and environmental risk factors, such as access, means, past trauma, and exposure to others who use substances.
The anonymity of purchasing drugs online can make access easier and risk higher. The disease of addiction leads to brain changes in how people experience pleasure, making recovery more difficult than people who have not experienced addiction might imagine.
How much of an impact has the COVID pandemic had on drug use among teens?
It is hard to truly quantify this information. Two hypotheses are that the increase in substance abuse and addictions appears to be related to a) decreased socialization as a result of distancing with COVID precautions and b) increased stress such as financial hardships and increased conflicts during the COVID pandemic.
Stay-at-home orders and remote schooling led to decreased monitoring and support for many teens and youth. We don’t know for sure that this caused increased substance use, but it is a risk factor that healthcare providers monitor and work to address.
Addiction is one problem. But kids have died after taking a pill they thought was harmless but turned out to be a deadly dose of fentanyl. What should parents be doing to keep teenagers safe?
Having a loving, trusting relationship with your children is a wonderful foundation that allows parents to educate their children on the risks of substance abuse such as inadvertently taking a lethal dose of fentanyl.
Connecting with honest and mutually respectful conversations about these hard issues can decrease the risk of substance use. There is truth to the statement that ‘knowledge is power.’
Sometimes, as parents you can do everything “right,” and still a child or teen ends up in a struggle such as addiction. Parents are not to be blamed, nor the teen or child. Addiction is a disease. When there is concern, urge people to reach out for more support including treatment from mental health professionals and school counselors, as well as natural support from spiritual communities, friends, and family.
If there is a concern for safety, emergency responders can assist with safety checks and getting patients, youth or otherwise, into care. We can all work together to help destigmatize mental health.