A Dose of Reality

More than 70% of people who abuse prescription painkillers get them through friends or relatives.  The number of prescription opioid overdose deaths has decreased in Tennessee with the exception of the 18-24 year old age group, which showed a continued trend of increasing rates (5.0 per 100,000 TN residents in 2015 and 8.2 per 100,000 TN residents in 2017.)

In the 12-17 year old age group the number of Opioid (non-heroin) overdose hospital discharges (inpatient and outpatient) decreased from 87 in 2016 to 71 in 2017. [1]

However, it’s not just older children who are at risk. According to a recent study, children between the ages of 1 and 5 were the second most-likely to be admitted for an opioid overdose. It’s crucial for parents to lock up their medication and safely dispose of unused/unwanted prescription pills, as opioid overdose among children has nearly doubled since 2004.

If you suspect your child is at risk

Signs that could mean your child is at risk:

  • A decline in school performance or attendance
  • A “new” group of friends
  • Changing relationships with family and friends
  • A loss of interest in favorite sports or hobbies
  • A change in eating or sleeping patterns or personal hygiene
  • Trouble with school or the law

Adverse Childhood Experiences

When trauma is experienced as a child, the stress created by these experiences can change brain chemistry, shape educational outcomes, and influence a person’s future health and well-being. These traumas are called Adverse Childhood Experience (ACEs) and are linked to poorer health and risky behaviors such as substance abuse.

Types of ACEs may include:

  • Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Physical or emotional neglect
  • Mental illness of a household member
  • Alcoholism or illegal drug use of a household member
  • Divorce or separation of a parent
  • Domestic violence
  • Incarceration of a household member

It is important to understand and recognize these risk factors in children.

 What parents can do

  • Learn how to have a conversation with your child about drugs (see Resources).
  • Let your child know that you and other loved ones will stand by them and offer support if they need it.
  • Bring your child to a medical professional who can check for signs of drug use (including drug testing) and other mental health issues.
  • Take away your child’s driving privileges if you suspect drug use to prevent an accident (this can also be used as an incentive to get your child’s agreement to be evaluated by a doctor).
  • Educate yourself about addiction, treatment, and recovery (see Resources).
  • Educate yourself about Adverse Childhood Experiences (see Resources).



Addiction affects people from all walks of life.

TN Faces of Opioids:

The Tennessee Department of Health is sharing the stories of Tennesseans affected by the opioid epidemic and what they are doing in every county and community of our state to bring it to an end.

Learn More


[1] TDH Data includes only Tennessee residents discharged from non-federal, acute care hospitals