The growing crisis of opioid addiction in the U.S. is expensive in both economic terms—at an annual cost of nearly $80 billion in healthcare and public-sector expenses—and human terms, with 40 lives lost daily to prescription opioid overdose. As states begin to research solutions to this critical problem, there is a strong case to be made for prevention through education—specifically, prevention programs targeting teenagers.
Prescription drug abuse touches every demographic.
When it comes to opioid abuse, there is a gap between reality and perception. While parents overwhelmingly assume that their children’s friends, school environments, or others are the sources of misused medications, the reality is that more than half of all teens claim they have easy access to prescription drugs at home. Far from stereotypes of rebellious teens experimenting illicitly, prescription drug abuse occurs across every student demographic.
The numbers are sobering. More than 90 percent of substance addictions begin in the teen or young adult years. A quarter of American teens admit to having misused prescription drugs at least once; by their sophomore year in college, about half will have been given the opportunity to try illegal prescription medications. If negative outcomes are to be prevented, it’s crucial to engage all students as they’re developing awareness of these substances—and before patterns of misuse have taken hold.
Prescription drug education saves lives—and dollars.
Once addiction sets in, outcomes and expenses can be difficult to manage. More than two million Americans are currently struggling with opioid-related addiction, and drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. As addiction levels rise, the epidemic is rapidly driving up private insurance and healthcare expenses—with the aggregated costs for opioid-addicted patients increasing more than tenfold in just a few years.
By comparison, the cost of preventative education is very low. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that effective drug abuse education programs can save a staggering $18 for every dollar invested. These savings have wide-ranging benefits across society—from easing the burden of treatment and law enforcement expenses, to a reduction in healthcare and social costs that result from an improved quality of life.
Intervene with education early.
By intervening during the high school years, the incidence and impact of opioid addiction can be reduced significantly—if the education programs employed are effective. In the context of today’s sophisticated and digitally savvy teens, this means that educational programming must be compelling, interactive, and presented in easily digestible ways. Perhaps most importantly, the results must be trackable in order to prove efficacy. If these criteria can be met, and the educational programs are scalable enough to reach large populations, our communities can begin to reshape the addiction landscape—saving lives and ensuring that students have healthy futures.