South Dakota Resource Hotline 1-800-920-4343

Anyone taking opioids can become addicted to them. Learn about the risks.

Prescription opioids should be taken exactly as directed and always used with extreme caution. Taking medication that was not prescribed to you is very dangerous. This type of misuse is a leading cause of unintentional overdose—especially among young people. Studies show that the earlier in life a young person starts using alcohol or other drugs, the greater their lifetime risk of misuse or addiction.

There are many factors that can increase the risk for substance use including:

  • Family history of substance use*
  • Past or current substance use disorder
  • Mental health issues
  • Social or family environments that encourage misuse
  • Association with substance-using peers
  • Lack of parental monitoring
  • Lack of school involvement with friends, social activities, or sports
  • Childhood trauma or sexual abuse

Look for opportunities to involve other trusted adults in these conversations. Family physicians, school nurses, spiritual leaders, grandparents, teachers, and coaches can help support your anti-drug message and will be more likely to reach out if they notice warning signs or have concerns.

*Make it clear to children from an early age that a family history of substance use increases their risk for addiction. Repeat your message regularly. Remind them that drug or alcohol use can quickly lead to addiction and some drugs can harm the brain or cause life-threatening overdoses. 

What You Can Do to Prevent Misuse and Abuse
Store Medication Safely and Dispose Properly

Never share or sell prescription medication.

Always store your prescriptions in a secure place—out of reach of children, family, friends, and visitors. Storing medications safely at home and on-the-go can reduce accidental overdose or misuse. Order a free medication lock box to ensure your medicine is only accessible to the prescription holder.

There are several ways to properly dispose of unused prescription medication. Find a medication take back location near you or order free Dispose Rx packets to neutralize medication so it can be safely disposed of at home.

Seek Alternatives for Pain
  • If you are taking prescription opioids, talk to your doctor about other options for pain relief that may work better and have
    fewer side effects.
  • Increase your physical activity levels. Physical activity can reduce chronic pain. It builds muscle strength and flexibility,
    reduces fatigue, pain sensitivity, and inflammation.
  • Consider a pain management program. Better Choices, Better Health® SD offers free educational workshops for caregivers
    and adults living with chronic pain. In a supportive group environment, participants learn skills to safely manage pain and
    balance life with ongoing physical and/or mental health conditions.
Keep Track of Prescription Pills
  • Keep track of quantities. Know how many pills have been taken—and how many remain in the bottle. This will help you
    know if any have been taken by someone else.
  • Read and follow your prescription’s label directions carefully.
  • Never take more than prescribed.
  • Never take prescription medication with alcohol or any other drugs. It can be a deadly combination.
  • No loose pills. Prescriptions should always be kept in the bottle provided by your pharmacy.
  • Immediately return the bottle to a locked cabinet or other safe place after taking the prescribed dose of prescription
Know the Signs of an Overdose and Keep Naloxone On Hand

Anyone taking a prescription opioid is at risk for an overdose, whether unintentional or not. If you have opioids in your home (like fentanyl, hydrocodone, morphine, or codeine), learn how to identify the signs of an overdose and reverse an overdose with Naloxone.

Common Signs of Misuse, Abuse, or Addiction

Drug misuse and abuse affect people from all walks of life. Drug tolerance or dependence can develop before you realize it. It can happen when the drugs are being taken as prescribed, misused as a way to deal with stress, or used recreationally.

Drugs can affect our ability to focus and think clearly. They are especially dangerous for young people because their brains are still developing until around age 24. Drug abuse can even change a person’s behavior and habits. It can also affect a person’s physical appearance. Here are some symptoms to look for:

Behavioral Symptoms
  • Increased irritability or aggression
  • Changes in attitude
  • Depression
  • Dramatic changes in habits or priorities
  • Changing friends
  • Slipping grades or skipping classes
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Lying or stealing

Physical Symptoms
  • Bloodshot or glazed eyes
  • Small pupils
  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Frequently tired
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Poor physical coordination
  • Looking ungroomed
  • Unusual body odors

Recognizing symptoms early can help prevent the problem from progressing. Talk with children and loved ones about how quickly experimentation can turn into an addiction. Additional signs that misuse or abuse may need to be addressed:

  • When a person needs higher doses to relieve the same pain—they have developed a tolerance.
  • When a person stops taking the medication and experiences severe withdrawal symptoms—they have become
    physically dependent.
  • When opioids are mixed with alcohol, other prescriptions, or over-the-counter medications they are being used
    incorrectly—or misused.
  • When opioids are shared or given to others for pain or recreational use.
Why You Should Talk About Drugs with Your Kids
Drugs are More Dangerous Than Ever Before

The drug landscape has changed dramatically in recent years. Many drugs are far more concentrated and dangerous than they were in the past. Counterfeit pills are often mixed with fentanyl or other drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Fake pills are easy to get on the street. And, buying drugs online is a popular new way for drug dealers to target kids.

The danger is real. Counterfeit pills are killing young South Dakotans—especially those 15-24. The more you know about different types of drugs and current threats the easier it will be to have more informed talks with your children.

Learn more about drug types, names, and some common symbols associated with illegal drugs.

Kids Take Risks

Part of growing up and becoming more independent is taking risks. Young people from all socioeconomic levels, different backgrounds, and personality types will engage in some level of risky behavior as they mature. You may think your child “would never” take a risk with drugs but the fact is young people experiment or use drugs for a variety of reasons including:

  • Self-medicating for anxiety or depression
  • Boredom
  • Feeling isolated or alone
  • To help fall asleep or stay awake
  • As a study aid
  • For weight loss
  • To improve sports performance
  • To relax and have fun
  • Stress
What You Say Matters

Parents are the biggest influence in a teen’s life. You may feel your child is pulling away as they become more independent but young people still need support and want you to be involved in their lives. Staying involved helps reduce the chances of them engaging in unhealthy behavior and helps set the stage for preventing drug use.

It’s important to teach children—from a very early age—that drugs are dangerous. It’s also important to make your household expectations, rules, and consequences clear.

And don’t forget, a big part of communicating is listening. Your willingness to listen tells them you care about what they are interested in. Listening provides you with insight into their world and builds trust. What kids know (or think they know) about drugs and their attitudes are important. If they think a particular drug is dangerous, they may be less likely to use it. If they think a drug is harmless, they may be more likely to use it.

How to Talk About Prescription and Illicit Drugs

Open, honest, and frequent conversations about drugs is an important step toward building trust. Talking with your children about the risks of misusing prescriptions or other drugs, possibility of unintentional overdose, and dangers associated with counterfeit pills will help demystify the conversation. Talking about drugs regularly will also make it easier for kids to come to you with questions.

Starting the Conversation

Acknowledge that it’s common for young people to be curious. Reinforce the fact that drugs can be dangerous, even fatal. Drugs are not a useful or healthy way to cope with stress or problems. Using drugs before the brain fully develops (around age 24) can cause irreversible damage. Drug use makes it harder to learn or concentrate.

Make sure you discuss the possibility of peer pressure. Don’t assume your child knows how to handle temptation. Instead, educate them about risks and alternatives to temptation so they can make healthy decisions. Help them understand both short-term and long-term consequences of using drugs. And—remember to listen.

Some questions you can ask to help start the conversation:

  • What do you know about drugs?
  • What do you think can happen if someone misuses prescriptions?
  • What do you want in your future?
  • What might get in the way of accomplishing what you want most?
  • What would you say to someone who offers you drugs?
Talking Points

Make sure they understand the hidden dangers

Young people may be aware of basic drug dangers. They may not be aware of how deadly drugs can be when mixed with alcohol or other drugs. Or, how common it is for counterfeit pills to be laced with fatal amounts of fentanyl.

Let them know that prescription drugs are only safe when used correctly by the person they were prescribed to. Taking medication that is not prescribed to them is very dangerous. For example, kids may think it’s okay to take medication from a friend who has been diagnosed with ADHD because they feel they have similar symptoms. But it’s important to reinforce that medication needs to be individually prescribed by a licensed physician for each person to be safe.

Bottom line, if it’s not prescribed to you, and you don’t know the source—IT’S NOT SAFE.

One pill can kill

Counterfeit pills are becoming more common and are often laced with deadly amounts of fentanyl. When fentanyl or other substances are added to fake pills, there aren’t always second chances. Additionally, young people may think there is a safe way to combine drugs—because they have done it before or know people who have. But the truth is—your body can react differently every time.

Make sure they understand the risks that come with street drugs or drugs sold online:

  • They are unregulated so the potency and contents can vary greatly
  • Pills sold online may look real but the majority are fake
  • Most counterfeit pills contain fentanyl or other harmful substances which greatly increases the potential for overdose
    and death

Let them know you are there for them

Many teens and young adults try prescription drugs (without a prescription) or other drugs to help manage stress, anxiety, depression, to do better in school or sports, or simply out of boredom. Be sure they know they can talk to you about their problems, struggles, or mistakes.

Open, honest, and frequent discussions will help them feel supported and give them the opportunity to share their feelings before an experiment becomes an addiction.

Dispel the Myths About Prescription Medication

Misinformation related to prescription misuse is common. Here are some common misconceptions young people have related to prescription drugs:

Myth: Prescription drugs are safer than illegal drugs.

Fact: Prescription drugs are only safe when used correctly by the person they were prescribed to. Taking medication that is not prescribed to you is very dangerous. Taking medication that didn’t come from a pharmacy can be deadly. If it’s not prescribed to you, and you don’t know the source—IT’S NOT SAFE.

Myth: It’s okay to take prescription medication from a friend because I know them.

Fact: Medical professionals take many things into consideration when prescribing prescription drugs such as a person’s medical history, other drugs they may be taking, weight, and age to name a few. Their medication is prescribed specifically for them. It’s not safe for you. And, even if you get medication from someone you know, you don’t know where they got it.

Myth: You can’t overdose on prescription drugs.

Fact: You can overdose on prescription drugs! In South Dakota, 93% of overdose deaths are unintentional. If you don’t take the medication as prescribed or you mix it with other drugs or alcohol, you can overdose. If you purchase drugs online or get them from friends or family, you don’t know where they came from. Many counterfeit pills contain deadly substances like fentanyl.

Myth: If it looks real it must be safe.

Fact: Criminals go to great lengths to make fake pills look real. Most people cannot tell the difference between counterfeit pills and real prescription medication. If it didn’t come from a pharmacy—it’s not safe.

Myth: Adderall is harmless and will help me get better grades.

Fact: Research shows that ADHD drugs, like Adderall and Ritalin, do not improve academic performance in people who don’t have ADHD. In fact, taking stimulants that are not prescribed to you can negatively affect your body and brain.

Tips for Parents and Caregivers
  • Encourage open and honest communication
  • Explain what fentanyl is and why it is so dangerous
  • Make sure they know fentanyl has been found in most illegal drugs
  • Stress not to take any pills that were not prescribed to you from a doctor
  • Make it clear that no pill purchased on social media is safe
  • Help them develop responses they can use if they are offered drugs
  • Create an “exit plan” to help your child know what to do if they’re pressured to take a pill or use drugs

For more tips on how to talk to your child (pre-school and older) about drugs:

Destigmatizing Addiction

The first step to helping people understand addiction is to recognize addiction as a chronic disease—not a character flaw.

Drug addiction is a complex disease. Quitting usually takes more than good intentions or a strong will. No single factor can predict whether a person will become addicted to drugs. A combination of genetic, environmental, and developmental factors influence a person’s risk for addiction. The good news is that drug addiction is treatable and can be successfully managed.

If You Suspect Drug Use

Sometimes, no matter how hard parents try, young people experiment with drugs. And sometimes, young people become addicted before they realize it. There is no way to predict if a person will become addicted. People with substance use disorders do not lack willpower. Addiction is a chronic disease.

If you suspect your child is using drugs, share your suspicions with your spouse, partner, or someone you trust first. A doctor, faith leader, school nurse, or a school counselor can help you sort out your feelings and answer questions before you talk with your child.

Practice the conversation until you are sure you can remain calm. Wait until your child is sober (or is not under the influence of drugs) before starting the conversation. Start by sharing your suspicions, but do not make accusations. “I suspect you may be misusing prescription medication occasionally. I love you, and I’m concerned about you. Is there something going on that we need to talk about?”

Be prepared for all kinds of reactions. If your child denies there is a problem, emphasize how much you care. If you have evidence, enforce the discipline you agreed on for breaking the rules. Be mindful of your words and tone. If the conversation becomes heated, express your love and concern and end the discussion with a plan to resume it later.

If your suspicions are strong (especially if you have hard evidence), do not pretend that everything is fine. Also, do not blame yourself. Drug misuse occurs in all kinds of families. If your child refuses to talk or takes a turn for the worse, ask a school guidance counselor, family doctor, or drug treatment referral center for help.

Call the Resource Hotline at 1-800-920-4343 and ask to speak with a Care Coordinator.

Care Coordinators are trained specialists with specific training for opioid misuse and abuse support. They are especially helpful when it comes to knowing what options are available and for taking the first steps toward recovery.

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