Opiate Abuse FAQ for Parents


  1. How can I tell if my child is using opiates?
  2. What do opiates and opioids look like?
  3. How can I prevent my child from using drugs?

How can I tell if my child is using opiates?

It is extremely difficult to tell with any certainty if a child is using drugs. The effects of opiates can be subtle at lower doses, and completely obvious at others. It is important to be educated on drug abuse, and, worst case scenario, what to do in a situation where an opiate overdose is suspected. Changes in mood or behavior are not necessarily indicative of drug abuse, but may be related to another life issue.

The following symptoms may be indicative of drug abuse in general , but, whether drugs are involved or not, it is important that the following issues be addressed, especially if they are uncharacteristic of your child:

  • mood swings
  • explosive outbursts
  • changes in eating patterns
  • anti-social behavior (family, friends)
  • reduced concentration
  • impaired memory
  • missing money, credit cards, and/or valuables
  • unexplained need for money
  • school/work performance decline
  • abrupt changes in friends
  • finding pawn slips
  • finding small plastic baggies
  • frequent secret phone calls
  • unexplained time away from home

The following symptoms may be indicative of opioid abuse:

  • pinpoint pupils
  • falling asleep at inappropriate times (ex. at the dinner table)
  • vomiting
  • constipation
  • use of laxatives
  • track marks on arms
  • constant itching/scratching
  • finding spoons with burn marks
  • missing spoons
  • aluminum foil or chewing gum wrappers with burn marks
  • bottles of vinegar or bleach (used to clean needles) and cotton balls

What do opiates and opioids look like?

The physical characteristics of opioids depend completely upon where it is they are coming from. There are three possible places opioids can come from.

  • Commercial preparations — Opioids manufactured by pharmaceutical companies come in a few different forms. Most of the time, opioids from a commercial establishment (though they are probably diverted in this case) will be in pill form; however, they are also produced in patches and liquid forms. Some patches, usually containing fentanyl, contain 72 hours worth of medicine, and often people will cut them into smaller pieces or suck the gel out of them to get high, depending on the brand. This is extremely dangerous as there is no guarantee that the medicine will be proportional throughout the patch. Liquid oral doses of opioids are a bit safer to use than the patches, but are by no means safe when used without a doctor’s supervision and prescription. One example of an orally-consumed, opioid-containing, liquid medicine is OxyFast. Codeine is often seen in liquid form as well. Some liquids are marked for injection only, which should be printed somewhere on the label. Fortunately, if you happen to find a commercially-produced opioid in your child’s room or on his/her person, it is fairly easy to find out exactly what it is. Liquid formulations will have a label (unless it is ripped off), and usually the patches have some sort of brand name printed on the back. All pills are required by the FDA to have a unique imprint, shape, and color unique to that one formulation. To identify a pill, feel free to use the search function in our Pill Identification section.
  • The streetsHeroin is typically found as a white to dark brown powder, or a tar-like substance. If you find a bag of white powder, however, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is heroin. Other drugs, such as cocaine and ketamine, also come in the form of white powder. If you find a needle with the bag of white powder, again, it doesn’t mean that it is heroin because both of these drugs can be injected as well. Opium is another drug found on the streets. Opium is made from the white liquid in the poppy plant, which contains several strong opiates (morphine, codeine, etc.), and is completely natural, though that doesn’t make it any safer. Opium is a black or brown block of a tar-like substance.
  • Nature — This is relatively unheard of, but some people grow their own poppy plants, which is legal only if used for “ornamental purposes.” Poppy plant pods can be used to make a psychoactive tea, which comes equipped with morphine, codeine, among other opiates, and a bitter taste. Believe it or not, pods are fairly easy to order from Internet vendors, though once the pods are made into a tea the person brewing it is in violation of federal law. Opium can also be made by extracting the white juices from the plant.

How can I prevent my child from using drugs?

No parent will successfully control his or her child without creating unnecessary animosity; however, merely talking with a child about drug abuse is a great start. Warning signs will be next to impossible to see if a parent has no communication with his/her child, so be communicative. Prevention involves paying attention to the child, open communication, and early education. Take these measures, and the chances of noticing or preventing a problem are much greater. If a parent suspects a problem, there are a variety of solutions; however, no one solution is perfect for everybody. Somebody who has smoked pot once or twice last year probably doesn’t need to goto rehab for marijuana!

Do not make any decisions without first seeking consultation with some sort of mental health specialist when it comes to substance abuse treatment. Some children may accept the label of “drug addict” which can ultimately make things harder, when it does not necessarily have to be that way. It is also important to be an active part of the young person’s recovery, informed, and supportive. Ridding oneself of opioid addiction may be the single hardest thing a person ever does, and that’s with no exaggeration.

Coming soon: What to do if your child is using drugs…

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