Many teens die from suicide and drug abuse. Since the Pandemic started last year we have seen an increase in the number of teenage suicides and teens dying due to a drug overdose. In fact, suicide is now the second leading cause of deaths for children 10 to 24 years old (CDC). One thing that contributes to teenage suicide is drug use. Specifically, the use of pain killers and heroin. In this article I attempt to describe both issues for parents. It is important for parents to be aware of these issues if we are going to stop them.
ABC 20/20 did a very good show last year about the epidemic of heroin use in the United States. If you did not see it, you can probably find it on YouTube. Parents this is a show you need to see because many teenagers I work with are not afraid or concerned about how dangerous heroin can be. In fact in 2017, the CDC estimated 494,000 people 12 and older used heroin. The minimum age the CDC is citing is 12 years old. Think about that fact there are 12 year old kids using a highly addictive drug such as heroin.
According to ABC 20/20, 129 people die every year from a heroin overdose. A majority of these deaths are teens and people in their twenties. Heroin is used by people in the lower income level and by people who are the wealthiest in the country. It is used by whites, blacks, Hispanics basically every ethnic group. It is also used by males and females. Therefore, for the families in Lafayette, Walnut Creek and Danville who say we don’t have that problem here, yes you do. Also for parents and educators who think that if their child is in a private school, they are less likely to use, you are wrong too. Heroin crosses all ethnic and economic boundaries. The epidemic is so severe some schools have started teaching children in the 6th grade how to use Narcan at school. However, since most children are attending school remotely, the Narcan is not really effective at this time. This drug can reverse an overdose of heroin if administered in time.
Therefore, parents in the Bay Area, you need to pay attention to this issue and these facts. You might be saving the life of your child or someone else you love.
As stated Heroin use to to be a drug of the past but it is now very popular with teens. Heroin is a cheaper alternative to many other drugs. For $10 a teenager can buy a capsule of heroin. This is much cheaper than other drugs.
Heroin is still mainly snorted or injected. Because it is injected teens are exposing themselves to HIV and Hepatitis C. Both are life threatening conditions with no cure. Also many girls who use heroin get pregnant but don’t realize they are pregnant until the 4th or 5th month. The girls stop using but stoping when you are five months pregnant it is too late for the baby. The babies will be born drug addicted and if they live through withdrawals, these children will have on going health issues and learning disabilities. In addition to exposing themselves to diseases most teens use Heroin with other drugs such as alcohol. This makes the probability of overdosing on Heroin even higher. Heroin lowers a persons breathing rate and the drugs they are combining it with lower the breathing rate even more making an accidental over dose more likely. The person’s rate of breathing becomes so low and they die. If your body doesn’t have enough oxygen to keep your brain a live, your brain stops working and so does your heart and all your other organs. The rate of deaths due to a heroin overdose has increased by a factor of 5 from 2010 to 2017 (CDC). This is a shocking and alarming statistic. Remember 12 year old kids are using heroin so many of those deaths are 12 year old kids.
Why is Heroin coming back and very popular with teens? Heroin is very similar to the Opioid based pain killers that teens have been using for years. However, with the cost of pain killers rising on the streets and becoming harder to get due to new prescription laws, heroin is easier to get and cheaper. Also teens tend to like the high better. It is not uncommon for someone to get addicted after using heroin one time. Also with the Opioid epidemic in our country, teens are now more likely to try heroin because it is easier to get and cheaper.
In the last few years the number of teenagers using heroin has doubled. The boredom of the Pandemic has not helped the problem. It has exacerbated the problem. What teens are at the highest risk? Those who have been using Opioid pain killers, those abusing marijuana and males. Remember it is very common for teens to combine heroin with other drugs and they are unaware of the impact it has on their breathing. They may collapse and not know why and by the time their friends get them to an emergency room it’s too late. Also teens may go to sleep after using and their breathing rate is so shallow they never wake up.
This is a very dangerous drug. If it doesn’t kill when the teen uses it the drug, it can kill when the teen is an adult if the teen contracts HIV or Hepatitis C. The rate of teens using this drug has doubled and the amount of people dying from an overdose has increased by a factor of 5 since 2010. Again, parents you cannot ignore this issue. Heroin is being used by upper class children and poor children, athletes, and all races. So it is impacting all teens. Also teenagers are looking for ways to escape the Pandemic and heroin offers them an escape. If suicide and drug abuse have increased by a factor of five since 2010, imagine how it has increased since the Pandemic started.
The other major issue with this drug is stopping. Someone cannot just go off heroin. People can die from withdraw. However, finding a treatment center that is affordable or with an open space is very difficult. They may have to wait four months to get into a rehab center. This is very dangerous. When someone decides to stop heroin, they need to enter rehab immediately. If they have to wait even 2 days, they may not make it because they cannot stand the withdrawal symptoms.
If we get involved we can hopefully stop teens from using this highly addictive killer. I have attached a link to a handout by the CDC with facts, warning signs and suggestions to help your teen if you think they are using heroin. http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/heroin/
In addition to these issues, Heroin and drug abuse is linked to teenage suicide. These drugs besides creating a high, create depression. At times a depression so severe that a teenager decides they would be better off dead and they commit suicide. For the age group 10 to 24 years old, suicide has gone from the third leading cause of death to the second leading cause of death now (CDC). Therefore, we need to pay attention to the pain killers and other drugs kids are using. And yes 10 year old kids are using these drugs too.
Many times the teen has decided they want to get clean and stop using the drug. However, as I mentioned above, finding an affordable treatment program with an open bed can be very difficult. Some teenagers may need to wait 2 months. This can be two months two long. The teenager may be so depressed and tired of living the drug life that they decide to kill themselves rather than endure the emotional and physical pain of waiting two months.
Another point is for some teenagers they have to try four or five times in rehab before they are successful. Again most teenagers are usually dealing with severe depression at this point. For them the thought of trying again and not succeeding is to much to tolerate. Therefore, they chose the option of suicide to eliminate their pain.
Finally, I mentioned a number of teenagers can overdose by accident, however it may not be an accident. Many teens know these drugs very well so they know how to stage what will look like an accidental overdose. Therefore, we really don’t know how many teenagers are committing suicide due to being sick and tired of using drugs and living a drug life. Many of the accidental overdosages could really be suicides. There is no way to tell.
What we know is drug use and suicide are at an epidemic rate for teenagers and the Coronavirus is making the epidemic worse. It is at a point where we need to get aggressive and provide better access to rehabilitation programs and better access to psychotherapy so the depression can be treated. We need a multi-disciplinary approach to this issue and we need to make it easy for teenagers and parents to use it. We also need to remove the negative stigma and judgement, if someone admits they are addicted and need help. Admitting you need help is an essential first step and it is extremely difficult to do to. Therefore, we don’t need people shaming them for taking that step.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist who has been working with teens for over 20 years and he is considered an expert in this field. For more information about Dr. Michael Rubino and his private practice visit his website at www.rubinocounseling.com or his Facebook page at http://www.Facebook.com/DrRubino3.