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An estimated 3.6 percent of teens aged 12-17 reported abusing some form of opioid in 2015-2016. Twice as many teens and young adults aged 18-25 reported opioid abuse in the same period. The American opioid epidemic was declared a national emergency in 2017, and while the numbers have been slowly receding over the past few years, opioid abuse continues to rise and the need for opioid treatment programs has never been greater.

Although illicit opioids like heroin are outlawed, most of these numbers report the use of stolen or misused pain medication. This problem dates to the 1990s when lax advertising rules and unscrupulous methods led to a boom in painkiller sales and an oversaturation of addictive medication in US households. Opioids are a class of drugs, naturally or synthetically derived from opium, the latex of poppy. They include codeine, hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin), morphine, fentanyl, and heroin.

Synthetic opioids are structurally similar to the real thing and target the same receptors in the nervous system. While these drugs are effective painkillers, they’re also powerful respiratory depressants. Too much can quickly slow and stop a person’s breathing. The effects of opioids on the brain are also associated with a higher risk of addiction than most medications. And although heroin has been outlawed for decades, the opioid epidemic has helped bring back demand.

The Dangers of Opioid Use and Abuse

Opioids are some of the most influential drugs in world history, playing a profound role in our understanding of pain and how to treat it. Opium was one of our earliest analgesics and anesthetics, long before its stronger derivatives, or safer alternatives. Opioids are still commonly used in cases of extreme pain, including terminal pain and intractable chronic pain, and synthetic opioids like fentanyl still have limited application in anesthesia and cancer pain.

However, even within the proper context, opioids can be immensely potent as drivers of addiction. Studies suggest as many as one-third of those who take opioids for chronic pain use misuse their medication, and one-tenth qualify as addicted. Some children and teens underestimate the drug’s potency and potential for overdose due to its innocuous nature as medication, but opioids account for most drug overdose deaths in the US – 46,802 out of 67,367 in 2018, only 14,996 of which were due to heroin. Some of the signs of opioid use in teens include:

  • Taking opioids not as intended (more at once than prescribed, taking it more often than prescribed, etc.)
  • Taking opioids prophylactically (even when not in pain)
  • Borrowing medication from other people
  • Seeking painkillers from multiple doctors
  • Sneaking off to use opioids, lying about opioid use
  • Denying a problem even in the face of clear evidence
  • Changes in behavior and sleeping patterns due to opioid abuse
  • Physical symptoms of opioid abuse, including nausea and constipation


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    Dual Diagnosis and Teen Opioid Treatment Programs

    Because opioids have a markedly powerful effect on the portions of the brain involved in reward and reinforcement, opioid dependence can lead to exacerbated symptoms of mental disorder, and opioid abuse is a greater concern among teens who have a history of mental health issues. Opioids induce a powerful and short-term euphoric effect.

    For teens seeking for an easy way to escape certain thoughts, opioids are an attractive albeit dangerous solution. Dual diagnosis-based opioid treatment programs are a complex, long-term process. At Visions Treatment Centers, our opioid treatment programs for teens take an individualized approach to addressing mental disorders and addiction simultaneously, often involving (but not limiting to):

    Inpatient/Residential Treatment

    Visions’ inpatient treatment program takes place at one of our specialized facilities, where teens work together with our experienced staff to tackle personal challenges, behavioral issues, intrusive thoughts, and struggles with drug use via talk therapy, experiential therapy, and medication. Every teen’s treatment is adapted to their needs and circumstances, as per a thorough initial assessment by a licensed psychiatrist and medical team.

    Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) and Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

    When residential treatment is not an option, we refer patients to our outpatient facility and work with them to devise a schedule and treatment plan allowing them to make progress in recovery while working and living at home. Treatments include talk therapy and, if needed, maintenance medication and psychiatric medication.

    Treatment at Visions is an important first step towards long-term recovery, especially in teens with a predisposition towards mental health issues. We work with a teen’s family to outline the requirements for a helpful environment conducive towards recovery and put a teen’s relatives in touch with local resources to continue their treatment via one-on-one therapy, maintenance medication, and support groups.