You’ve heard of schools named for the cities housing them. Some of them are called Albany High, Hayward High, Lakewood High, Southfield High, Stuyvesant High and the like. It’s no stretch to wonder if anyone calls one or more secondary schools “Heroin High.” Check it out: The opioid epidemic throughout the USA is affecting American teens coast to coast. True to its nature, heroin suits people who have difficulty making decisions and prefer not to. Adolescents are like that as they explore their developing identities, struggle with unpleasant peer pressure, and change their minds with frequent whims. Like the opioid-addicted adults too often around them, teenagers are taking the mind-numbing way out of pressing issues far too frequently for public or private health. They lack sufficient role models who can teach them how to deal with stress sensibly, effectively, and in a drug-free manner. And as is evident from the crisis in high schools across the country, heroin is too readily available. Many miserable teens use it for blocking out any sort of distress.
How did this Happen?
The over-prescription of pain-killing opioids has led to accidental and intentional addictions in all 50 states. The fact that opioids deaden stressful emotions made them additionally appealing. That’s why codeine, hydrocodone, methadone, morphine, and oxycodone increased in popularity. The gateway to “harder stuff” which addicts eventually need to maintain their sense of distraction from any kind of pain, those drugs led users to choose heroin. Somewhat easier to come by since prescriptions aren’t necessary, but paid for with life-endangering activities (e.g., prostitution, theft or debt, being a distributor), heroin is no longer the province of lower class users. Heroin is leveling America’s societal playing field. It is costing lives, careers, relationships and employment in every social sector. It cancels out the valuable time of identity development among adolescents, too. That portends a long-term disaster that can play out for years to come.
The heroin and overall opioid pandemic in American high schools is so intense that CBS News presented an informative series of articles about the Tri-State epidemic in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The umbrella term Generation H sums up the problem. Let’s look at other relevant issues beyond those covered in the wide-ranging report.
Unless Generation H breaks its opioid addiction, it faces a bleak years-long future of bumming about without clearly defined goals or stable homes, chronic unemployment, low-quality relationships, drug-induced health impairment and even poor physical and mental growth. Teen years are when bodies and brains grow rapidly. Opioid addictions prevent that from happening in optimal fashion. If an addicted teen female becomes pregnant, her unborn child also faces many health problems. Such children require long-term medical care as do babies born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
Though a World Health Organization report has cited efforts to monitor and to prevent opioid abuse vis a vis coroner reports and the sharing of evidence-based pain management techniques not involving drugs (e.g., physical and occupational therapy, anti-inflammatories rather than opioid medications), there is scant evidence that the mindfulness techniques used by drug rehabilitation experts is in place. Counting the abusers rather than supporting them with effective techniques for preventing and ending opioid abuse is to miss the point by a large margin, enabling on-going addiction. The public remains largely unaware of, or not disciplined enough to use relaxation, thinking, physiotherapy or other non-drug behaviors that prevent and end drug use while minimizing inner and outer pain.
The problem staring us in the face but going largely unacknowledged is that opioid-addicted US teens are not learning how to become functional adults who can persevere past problems. They’re not even learning how to develop rewarding friendships. According to a study published in Child Development this past August, adolescent friendships pay off far into adulthood. They’re vitally necessary for adult mental health. The building blocks for such friendships are absent in addicted teens. Their futures are thus blighted, barring potential miracles.
The Bottom Line
Widespread addiction among US teens comes with serious costs to Quality of Life. Basic life skills such as conflict resolution, insight, decision-making, self-regulation and the development of executive thinking skills aren’t developed in addicted teens. Unable to compare and contrast the worth of one option over another, to plan and to finesse multi-tasking, addicts of any age struggle to memorize even simple instructions. That limits and prevents emotional maturity let alone employability and stable relationships. There’s more to consider: Educational deficits. The inability to complete high school or to study employment-related courses dooms teen addicts to enduring poverty.
Other negative implications exist. Addicts build a tolerance for the level of substances they use. They thus need ever-increasing amounts to maintain their stupor. Criminal activity among addicts who can’t afford their escalating costs of daily life and increasing needs for more opioids is likely to increase. A dizzying downward cascade of harmful events is in store for teen addicts just as it is for adult addicts.
As mentioned above, the checks and balances systems cited by the World Health Organization are not ending rampant addiction. Neither are studies at the prestigious Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. The need to end teen addiction remains in place.
Drug rehabilitation experts know what to do. Politicians, medical and mental health experts – especially those involved in successful drug rehabilitation endeavors – would be wise to work together to create policies to end, and to prevent, addictions. Resulting educational programs could have a highly productive impact on wider society. Schools would make sensible sites for addiction-preventing educations as they have a population in demonstrative need of such information. Those programs can be supported and conducted in various business and social entities.
Yocheved Golani is a popular writer whose byline has appeared worldwide in print and online. A certified Health Information Management professional, she is a member of Get Help Israel. Certified in Spiritual Chaplaincy (End of Life issues) and in counseling skills, her life coaching for ill people puts healthy perspective into a clients’ success plan for achieving desired goals.