When it comes to abusing prescription opioids, teenagers want to be lectured. No, really.
I have some level of insight on the issue. Several months ago I teamed up with my research partner to poll fellow high schoolers about prescription drug abuse. “What have you experienced?” we asked, and “What do you know?” And perhaps most importantly, we worked to understand “How can adults get teens the education they need to make better choices?”
The questions were timely. While drug abuse has been topical in America’s high school for decades, the current opioid crisis has blindsided many communities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 91 Americans now die every day from an opioid overdose. In August, President Trump pronounced the situation a national emergency.
So, how do teenagers figure into this crisis? Here’s what we found.
Most teenagers know someone who has abused prescription drugs – or have done so themselves.
- 62.2% acknowledged participating in or knowing someone who has participated in recreational opioid use
- For recreational stimulant use, the rate was even higher: 71.1%.
The potential effects of prescription drug abuse are no secret to teens.
- 95.6% knew the fatal side effects of prescription drug abuse
- 42.2% responded “yes” to having previous education on prescription drug abuse
More education could help teens make better choices.
- 55.6% responded that they would have changed their behavior with more education.
This last finding intrigued us. If teens are open to more education, what should that education look like?
Surprisingly, the teens we polled were almost old-fashioned in their outlook. Almost half said that best platform for education is lectures in conjunction with existing programs. That’s right – the millennials accused of being unable to hold a conversation because we’re so distracted by our smart phones are asking for plainspoken, face-to-face information about how opioid and prescription drug abuse can impact our lives and those of the people we love.
Which is not to say 21st century media doesn’t have a role. Video could be a useful tool as well, nearly roughly 60% of respondents acknowledged.
In the face of an ugly and painful opioid abuse epidemic, my research partner and I consider these findings a bright spot. While our initial research polled a population of private high school students in suburban Kansas City, we’d like to take the questions further. We look to find more answers and, ultimately, create the educational materials these teens need. We envision a cross-country educational program facilitated by teen ambassadors.
This is our hope for an epidemic that leaves so many communities and families across the country feeling hopeless.
Megan Nalamachu is a 17-year-old high school student. She conducted the research described with fellow student Saahith Gondi using a research grant from the Institute for Patient Access.