Parents Should Ask Questions About Opioids For Kids, Teens

By Kelly Burch 02/06/19

Doctors warn that while being mindful of addictive properties of opioids is important, it’s also critical that pain be controlled for young patients. 

parent talking to doctor about prescribing opioids for her kid

Despite concern about the risks for addiction, there remains a legitimate medical need for opioid painkillers to manage pain for children and teens in some cases, and doctors say that parents can encourage responsible use of opioids by talking with their child’s provider about how best to manage pain. 

“Opioids are very potent relievers of pain, very effective,” Dr. Linda J. Mason, a professor of anesthesia and pediatrics at Loma Linda University and president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists told The New York Times. “But they have addictive properties, and also side effects, like respiratory depression.” 

Mason suggests that parents ask their provider how the doctor plans to manage a child’s pain. This can even begin at a pre-operative meeting, so that everyone has the same expectations about pain management. Although opioids may be needed in the short-term following surgery or a broken bone, patients can usually transition away from them quickly. In other cases, like those involving burns or serious illness, opioids may need to be used for a longer period of time. 

Doctors warn that while being mindful of addictive properties of opioids is important, it’s also critical that pain be controlled for young patients. 

“Treating pain adequately helps recovery, reduces the downstream psychiatric and psychological effects,” said Dr. Elliot J. Krane, chief of pain management at the Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford and professor of anesthesiology and pediatrics at Stanford University. “In the absence of risk factors or concerns about the child’s home environment, I am more concerned about deleterious effects of untreated pain than I am about creating somebody with substance abuse disorder.” 

Krane said that if patients are prescribed opioids “rationally and appropriately” there is little cause for concern about substance misuse. Krane has very few patients who are prescribed opioids for chronic pain, but some do need the strong medications, he said.

He described himself as “neither pro-opioid nor anti-opioid, but pro-patient.”

In addition to discussing pain management ahead of time, Mason recommends that parents ensure that any unused opioids are properly disposed of. 

“You should not keep them for use for a future time,” Mason said. “These are for a specific surgery.”

Many doctors and pharmacies are conscious of prescribing opioids in a very controlled manner for children and teens, but parents still have an important role to play in helping prevent opioid abuse in patients. 

“Parents who are well-informed can give the best care to their children,” Mason said. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.