A Dose of Reality

Most people who abuse prescription painkillers get them through friends or relatives. 4 out of 10 teens believe prescription drugs are less dangerous and less addictive than street drugs, and in Arkansas, the prescription painkiller death rate for those under 55 in 2016 was nearly 5 times higher than it was in 2001.

However, it’s not just older children who are at risk. According to a recent study, children between the ages of 1 and 5 were the second-most-likely to be admitted for an opioid overdose. It’s crucial for parents to lock up their medication and safely dispose of unused/unwanted prescription pills, as opioid overdose among children has nearly doubled since 2004.

If you suspect your child is at risk

When your child starts acting withdrawn, depressed, hostile or fatigued for no apparent reason, you may not suspect at first that anything is wrong. Many of these normal adolescent behaviors can also be signs of a drug-related problem.

However, a parent’s intuition will usually pick up on other signs that could mean your child is at risk:

  • A decline in school performance or attendance
  • A “new” group of friends
  • Changing relationships with family and friends
  • A loss of interest in favorite sports or hobbies
  • A change in eating or sleeping patterns or personal hygiene
  • Trouble with school or the law

Adverse Childhood Experiences

When trauma is experienced as a child, the toxic stress created by these experiences can change brain chemistry, shape educational outcomes, and influence a person’s future health and well-being. These traumas are called Adverse Childhood Experience (ACEs) and are linked to poorer health and risky behaviors such as substance abuse.

Arkansas has the 2nd highest rate of ACEs in the United States[1] with about 56% of children having experienced at least 1 ACE compared to the national average of 46.3% among children aged 0-17 years[2]. Moreover, 30% of children in Arkansas have experienced 2 or more ACEs[3].

Unfortunately, individuals who reported 5 or more ACEs were 3 times more likely to misuse prescription pain medication and 5 times more likely to engage in injection drug use.

If your child has experienced ACEs, he/she may be at risk for opioid abuse. Types of ACEs may include:

  • Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Physical or emotional neglect
  • Mental illness of a household member
  • Alcoholism or illegal drug use of a household member
  • Divorce or separation of a parent
  • Domestic violence towards a parent
  • Incarceration of a household member

It is important to understand and recognize these risk factors in children.

 What parents can do

  • Learn how to have a conversation with your child about drugs (see Resources).
  • Let your child know that you and other loved ones will stand by them and offer support if they need it.
  • Do not supply your child with a steady supply of money if you aren’t certain about where and how it will be spent.
  • Rather than staging an “intervention,” focus on creating incentives to get your child to a doctor.
  • Bring your child to a medical professional who can check for signs of drug use (including drug testing) and other mental health issues.
  • Take away your child’s driving privileges if you suspect drug use to prevent an accident (this can also be used as an incentive to get your child’s agreement to be evaluated by a doctor).
  • Educate yourself about addiction, treatment, and recovery (see Resources).
  • Educate yourself about Adverse Childhood Experiences.



[1] Arkansas 2018 State Profile

[2] Child Health Data – Adverse Childhood Experiences Among Arkansas’ Children

[3] Child Health Data – Adverse Childhood Experiences Among Arkansas’ Children