If you've ever broken a bone or torn a muscle, you know how debilitating the pain can be. Maybe you took pills to help you feel better. But what if, after you healed, you still needed the pills? What if that need was so intense it made you neglect everything else—even your family?
This terrifying scenario is a reality for the more than 2 million Americans who are dependent on opioids, the painkilling substances in many prescription drugs and also illegal drugs like heroin. And often, the children of people with opioid dependencies suffer just as much as their parents.
It may be hard to understand how someone could let a little pill destroy their family, but no one sets out to get addicted to painkillers. Most people develop a dependency on opioids after being prescribed pills to treat pain from an injury or chronic condition. While the drugs can be safe for short-term use, for many years pharmaceutical companies downplayed their addictive nature. In fact, opioids are dangerously habit-forming. (See “Opioids and the Brain.”) Prescription drugs are expensive, so users may turn to cheaper, illegal opioids like heroin to support their habit.
The effects of opioid dependency on families can be devastating. Kids may wind up caring for siblings or their parents, or may be removed from their parents’ custody. Choices spoke with four teens (and one mom) who want to raise awareness about these drugs. Here’s how they cope—and how they hope to help others.