How to Keep the Lines of Communication Open with Your Kids about Opioid Misuse and Abuse

Massachusetts has the highest rate of opioid related deaths in the country. In fact, 6 people die per day across the Commonwealth from opioid misuse. One of the best ways you can help break the cycle of opioid misuse is by talking to your kids at a young age.

Talking to your kids about opioid misuse – and figuring out what exactly to say – can be uncomfortable and challenging. But starting the conversion early, and keeping it going, is critical for prevention.

How Young is Too Young?

There isn’t a set age to talk to your kids about substance use, including opioid misuse, but that conversation will sound different depending on the age of your children. The most important points to remember are to keep discussions open and honest; speak from love and not anger or fear; and address teachable moments as they arise.  

As a parent, you have the most important tool available – communication. Here are a few points to keep in mind when you speak with your kids:

  • Ages 8 and under: If you have young kids, explain how regular medications you take are different than a vitamin they may take. Reinforce the message that it’s never okay to take medication that belongs to someone else because it can make them very sick. Also, let them know that it’s dangerous to take medication without grownup supervision.
  • Ages 9-12: If you have tweens, then you know they may value the opinion of their peers more than their parents. In any case, discuss how they’ll be exposed to new situations now that they’re getting older and you understand that they won’t always know what to say or do. Equip your tween with some responses that they can use if they’re offered pills, such as opioids or other substances (e.g., Adderall, Zanax, Hydrocodone, Oxycontin, etc.). Make sure they know that you’ll always be available to talk to them without judgement.
  • Ages 13-18: By middle school through high school, chance are your kids know about opioids and they may even know classmates who are misusing them. According to a 2013 study, one in eight U.S. high school seniors reported using opioids for nonmedical reasons. And about two-thirds of teenagers who misuse prescription medication reported getting them from friends and family members (with or without permission). Ask your kids if they’ve heard of other students using opioids and see where the conversation leads. The important thing is to keep talking to them through the year, every year. Most school guidance counselors are equipped to handle substance use and misuse among teens. They’re a great resource to contact if you need further information.

For more information about the impact of opioids in Massachusetts read In Our Own Backyard: How United Way is Responding to the Opioid Crisis