Opioid abuse is not just an increasing adult problem. Teens struggle with the same addiction. There were approximately 33,000 deaths associated with this drug in 2015, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The problem is so widespread that the CDC labels it an epidemic. In October, President Trump charged the Department of Health and Human Services to declare opioid drug use a crisis. 

“We’ve realized in [the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration] that we are in the midst of a huge drug use problem in this country. We are losing approximately 150 people a day across the country to overdose deaths,” said Richard Isaacson, special agent and public information officer for the DEA. “We’ve seen an increase in overdose deaths over the last couple of years in large part due to these other opioids being mixed in with the heroin.” 

Last December Ken Daniels, a play-by-play announcer for the Detroit Red Wings, lost his 23-year-old son to an overdose. His son, Jamie, started taking prescription painkillers after a wisdom tooth was extracted. He sought help in the spring of 2016 but could not fight the addiction.

In an interview with The Athletic, Daniels said, “He took something. I don’t know how, or why. He never woke up.”

One problem is that when teens or others buy these drugs, they don’t know the true content. 

“A lot of the heroin that’s being sold on the streets across America sometimes has heroin, sometimes has other opioid drugs mixed in with the heroin. A lot of these opioid drugs that are mixed in with the heroin are extremely potent and manufactured in Asia and shipped over here

illegally,” said Isaacson. “They’re mixed by the Mexican drug cartel. They mix that with the heroin and it becomes even more deadly.”  

Patients who are prescribed pain medication sometimes don’t realize that taking it could lead to addiction.

“You get a dependency because you keep using it for pain, it makes you feel better. You’re a little scared to go without it,” said Sheila Clay, nurse practitioner for the St. John Providence school-based health center located in King High School.

“There’s been a dramatic resurgence to heroin use and related opioid drugs. When I say related opioid drugs, I’m generally speaking about prescription pain killers. What the experts have found out is that approximately 80 percent of all the current heroin users in America started out by misusing prescription painkillers first,” said Isaacson. “These painkillers are becoming a gateway drug to heroin.”

It is important that prescription drugs are only used for the reason prescribed. Using someone else’s medication could be harmful.

“A very important message for all teenagers,” said Isaacson, is “don’t be mistaken or misled to believe that just because a drug is a legitimate prescription that it’s somehow safer to abuse than a traditional illegal drug. Misusing prescription drugs is every bit as lethal as using any illegal drug.”

There are measures in place to fight this crisis, but it will take time to get it under control.

“The most effective way to fight this problem over the long term is to combine forces with drug prevention and education, and drug treatment and recovery, and enforcement,” said Isaacson. “All three of those components working together to try to attack this problem from a holistic approach.”

According to CNN, in October, two friends in Georgia, one 18 and the other 19, died of a mixture of heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid. 

In a CNN interview, the father of one victim said, “The amount of fentanyl in his body was the equivalent to three grains of salt. That's all it took to kill a 180-pound guy."

For more information and support, please contact the St. John Providence school-based health center at (313) 567-0534, Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.