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Parent helpline answers: How do I keep my family safe from opioid addiction?

Editor’s Note: This Saturday, October 27 is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. Across the nation, people are disposing of their leftover, unneeded prescription drugs at local Take Back events to prevent drug misuse. Google has partnered with the DEA to make these locations easier to find. Visit to find a location near you and make a plan to bring back your prescriptions.

Earlier this year, gave $750,000 to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids to expand and improve our Parent Helpline that supports parents and other caregivers of young people struggling with substance use. As the mother of a child in recovery, I’ve seen firsthand how opioid addiction hurts our loved ones, families and our communities. I also work with the Partnership to help educate about opioid use and addiction, and I volunteer as a Parent Coach – providing peer-to-peer support to other families.

Today I'm sharing some of the most frequently asked questions I hear from parents about opioid addiction.

Aren’t opioids legally prescribed by doctors, and therefore safe?

Even though opioid pain relievers can be prescribed by doctors to manage pain, opioids have high risks of addiction and dependence. While other pain relief options should be explored before taking opioids, when taken as prescribed for short periods of time, opioid pain relievers may generally be safe for most adults. But because opioid pain relievers (which have the same properties as heroin) can produce a sensation of euphoria in addition to pain relief, some people take them for longer stretches and increase the dosage over time – which can lead to addiction.

What can I do, right now, to keep my family safe?

  1. Ask your doctor about alternatives to opioids to manage pain.
  2. Secure all of the medication in your home.
  3. Make sure that medications for you and your loved ones are used only as prescribed, and not shared with anyone else,
  4. Dispose of unused or expired medications at a Take Back location this weekend. Enter your zip code or address into the map here and find a local take-back facility.

But my child isn’t using opioid drugs – why do I need to clean my medicine cabinet?

When surveyed, more than half of teens say that it’s easy to get prescription drugs from their parent’s medicine cabinet, and two-thirds of teens who report misusing Rx medication get it from friends, family and acquaintances. While it’s tempting to keep old prescriptions around “in case you need them later,” it’s safer to dispose of them when the immediate need is over. Proper medication storage and disposal can help prevent misuse even beyond your own family.

How can I talk to my child about drug misuse?

While a majority of kids report that their parents have talked to them about avoiding alcohol (81%) or marijuana (80%), only 18% of kids say that their parents have talked to them about prescription drug use. Kids who learn about the dangers of drug use early and often are much less likely to develop addiction than those who do not receive these important messages at home. Conversations about the importance of using medications as prescribed, including not sharing medications or taking anything that hasn’t been prescribed to oneself, are critical messages to convey. Learn more tips for talking about medication misuse.

What signs should I be on the lookout for?

Signals range from the obvious, like missing prescriptions and empty pill bottles, to subtler signs like sudden mood changes, isolating from family or friends, and losing interest in hobbies that used to bring joy. Early use can sometimes bring about positive behavior and moods, like being overly motivated or having lively conversations.

Opioid addiction can also manifest in physical ways: Look for signs of fatigue and drowsiness, pinpoint pupils and dark circles under the eyes, and rapid weight loss. Learn more about opioid medication, including common signs of misuse.  

What do I do if I find out my child is misusing or abusing opioids?

It can be scary to learn that your child is misusing opioids, but there are steps you can take to help:

  • Learn about tools to help motivate your child to get treatment.
  • Start a conversation, not a confrontation, and always remember to listen.
  • Consider your treatment options, including medications that can help reduce cravings associated with opioids.
  • As a safety precaution, you can talk to your doctor or pharmacist about getting Naloxone (known by the brand name Narcan) which is used to reverse an opioid overdose.

When I found out my child was misusing opioids, I was scared and felt alone—and felt like I had nowhere to turn. But parents and families don’t have to face this alone. Compassionate, one-on-one support and guidance are within reach. You can connect with a Helpline Specialist at the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids by calling 1-855-DRUGFREE. You can also contact us by text (send a message to 55753) or email at our website at

If you are an adult who is personally struggling with addiction, or you’d like information on how to help a loved one, you can find opioid addiction resources through the Federal SAMHSA Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP. 

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