Opioids are a fact of life in many American households and our children are discovering how easy it is now to acquire them. 

Unsecured medications can be tempting, if not to your child, to his or her friends who will share them with others.  Most young people are first introduced to drugs by a friend, a cousin or even an older brother or sister.  Kids who want to experiment may think that prescription opioid medicines are safer than street drugs because a doctor prescribed them.

According to the Pediatric Health Information System, which collects data from 31 hospitals across the US, the number of Opioid-related visits to the Emergency Room is up by 35%.    Even more frightening, a third of them were children under the age of five, a fifth of which had accidentally ingested a family member’s methadone.  For youth between 12 to 17 years old, the emergency room visits include suicide attempts.

So when do parents and teachers begin the discussion about Opioids and other drugs?  As some kids first try medications as an escape from school issues and social problems, many experts now agree that the time to address drugs and addiction is before these issues begin.

In a NEAToday article ( http://neatoday.org/2017/03/01/opioid-crisis-schools), the National Education Association discussed implementing drug awareness lessons in elementary schools.  A panel assembled by the Ohio legislature has recommended that education begin as early as Kindergarten in all state schools.

Once you’ve decided it’s time to talk to your children, there are plenty of resources to help you speak knowledgeably in a language they’ll understand.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has a wealth of information for all ages.  It provides free lesson plans  (https://teens.drugabuse.gov/teachers  ) are available for teachers for grades 6 through 12, as well as free posters and brochures for students.  It also offers interactive videos for teens to help with their decision-making skills.  Other videos tackle the myths about addiction, drug effects on the brain and explains why some people become addicted while others may not.   An ‘Easy to Read’ section offers audio and video information for students – and adults – with low reading skills.

The NIDA has plenty of resources for families, too, including a fact sheet on addiction for parents to study before they speak to their kids.  The site’s Teen section ( https://teens.drugabuse.gov/  ) features factoids and interactive polls.

Test your knowledge by taking the interactive National Drug & Alcohol IQ Challenge quiz!     https://teens.drugabuse.gov/quiz/national-drug-alcohol-facts-week/take-iq-challenge/2018

Scholastic Inc., the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books and a top resource for teachers, also offers lesson plans  ( http://headsup.scholastic.com/teachers/opioid-overdose-epidemic ) for teachers for 4th grade and up.  Downloadable worksheets offer graphic charts, vocabulary lists and scientific data.   Other sections speak to directly to kids and parents with easy to understand information.

Whether at home or in the classroom, there is information available to make the conversation easier for kids and adults!