Preventing Opioid Misuse and Potential Abuse Among Adolescents in Massachusetts Through a Parent Education Program
Author: Danny Vazquez, MD Class of 2019
Mentor(s): Julie Wilson, PhD
Over the past 15 years, families, communities, and individuals across the United States have been tragically affected by the opioid epidemic with more than 130 people dying daily from an opioid overdose, including children and adolescents. The opioid epidemic has also profoundly impacted the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, with the state among the top ten highest rates of opioid-related overdose deaths. In Massachusetts, this unfortunate loss of life results in a conservative economic burden estimate of $9.7 billion in lost productivity alone, without accounting for costs of treatment. Much of this is likely attributable to disability and mortality in young adults.
Adolescents who use opioids are significantly more likely to abuse opioids as adults, resulting in tragic loss of life and costs to society. Our report will outline recommendations to engage and educate parents and families in the prevention of opioid misuse in children and adolescents with the goal of reducing young adult misuse.
Massachusetts has already taken significant steps to curb the opioid epidemic with the development of numerous grant programs, evidence-based treatment and screening programs, an online repository of health resources, and the Governor’s Opioid Addiction Working Group. Most importantly, Massachusetts developed Project Here as an evidence-based prevention initiative to educate middle schoolers and give them the life skills necessary to make healthy life choices related to substance use. Understanding that the brains of children are still developing and are vulnerable to both positive and negative influences, Project Here seeks to strengthen child habits to reject substance misuse consciously.
Despite the success of Project Here, no such education initiative exists for parents in Massachusetts. It has been demonstrated that strong parent support is a protective factor against youth substance misuse, which begins with educating parents on how to support their children. Thus, the Office of the Attorney General tasked us with producing recommendations for the development of a parent education program.