Teens & The Effects of Painkillers
On a recent segment of the ‘Today’ show, correspondent Jenna Bush Hager spoke with three Newport Academy alumni teens and with Jamison Monroe, Jr., Newport Academy’s founder and CEO. First of all, substance use is a serious issue for teens. In addition, teen athletes are succumbing to pressure. Furthermore, the pressure on these teens can lead to injury. Hence, this can lead to the need for pain management. Therefore, this leads to medication and the negative effects of painkillers on teenagers. When teens are prescribed strong narcotics, it is like a game of Russian Roulette. In most cases, teens are not offered non-narcotic alternatives. Consequently, addictive narcotics cause serious health problems. Even beyond health problems, teens are dying from opiate drug use. Therefore, this has become an epidemic.
The ‘Today’ show topic was how the over-prescription of painkillers to teen athletes can lead to addiction. Society loses kids every day to this epidemic because adults underestimate the dangerous effects of painkillers. Especially relevant, we must discuss what is happening in this country. Due to over-prescribing, many are addicted to dangerous drugs. In addition, it is important to reduce the stigma around drugs. Most noteworthy, teens are struggling and afraid to seek help. The powerful effects of painkillers can overwhelm anyone. Therefore, it is critical that we embrace the dialogue.
Consequently, if you or someone you love is struggling with the dangerous effects of painkillers, you are not alone. Furthermore, help is available. We step in where others fear to tread. In conclusion, please feel free to contact us for support.
Below is a transcript of the ‘Today’ show conversation.
From Teen Athlete to Teen Drug User
Jenna: We all know that the abuse of opioids has become an epidemic in our country. I recently sat down with three teens whose sports injuries led to dangerous addictions.
For John Haskell, football meant everything.
John: I loved it. I put in one hundred and ten percent.
Jenna: The game provided life lessons on and off the field for Spencer Coble.
Spencer: It instills a lot of skills—like brotherhood and what it means to be a teammate.
Jenna: And Jess Jennings joined her first swim team at six years old.
Jess: I love swimming. It is the most fun I’ve ever had on a team in my life.
Jenna: All student athletes, now 18, who went from chasing a dream to chasing a high.
Escaping Pain Through Prescription Drug Use
John: My dealer at the time offered up the idea of black tar heroin.
Spencer: I was nervous to go to practice because I didn’t want to let my coach see.
Jess: I was at a point where I just wanted to get high, like see how high exactly I could get.
Jenna: Their love of the game drove them to play hard. At just 15, John got his fourth concussion.
John: And then, when I woke up the next morning, I was not hearing too well and things were a little blurry. My head was throbbing and really, really hurting. So my mom took me to the doctor.
Jenna: Do you remember the conversation that you had with the doctor?
John: I had the CT scan. He asked me some questions. He looked in my ears, checked my hearing, checked my eyes, and the next thing I know, I’m at CVS getting Vicodin.
Jenna: Vicodin, a highly addictive, opioid painkiller, like the one Spencer was prescribed.
Spencer: I was prescribed Percocet. I got hit really hard when I was running the football and my back was just killing me.
Jenna: The Percocet did more than just block Spencer’s pain.
Spencer: I liked the feeling that it gave me, not for the relief of the pain, [but] for the mental effect that it brought to me.
Painkillers and Teen Addiction
Jenna: Both athletes were soon hooked. How many prescriptions were written for you?
John: One prescription with three refills.
Jenna: When that ran out, what happened?
John: I had to find a dealer that was going to sell them to me.
Jenna: Jess was also prescribed Vicodin after shoulder surgery. She says she had used it a few times before, but never in this amount. Once the prescription ran out, she started stealing from her grandmother’s medicine cabinet.
Jess: I would just take them and replace them with ibuprofen, and she wouldn’t even notice.
Jenna: Jess, John, and Spencer are not alone. In a CDC survey published this year, one in six students said they had taken prescription painkillers without a prescription.
Dr. Harold Shinitzy: It’s supposed to be for pain relief. Unfortunately, we see, all too often, the developing brain becoming seduced by this feeling, the release of dopamine in the brain, the feel-good center of the brain.
Jenna: John was spending upwards of $200 a day on the pills. His parents caught him stealing money.
Mr. Haskell: I think that’s what made him realize, “Oh, I don’t have unlimited funds, I better start finding what I can get high on that’s cheap.”
The Path to Teen Treatment
Jenna: The solution: heroin, a fraction of the price of a prescription painkiller. The son, who had never used drugs before his football injury, was now a full-blown heroin addict. How did you realize you needed to get help?
John: There was nothing else really for me. I was 16 years old using heroin. I was pretty much over my life. I was depressed. I wanted to die.
Jenna: That’s when his dad took him to Newport Academy in California, a teen treatment center where Jess and Spencer were also getting help after hitting rock bottom.
Jess: I took, roughly, 45 pills of Vicodin and I blacked out and my mom called 911.
We Must Question Medication Use
Jenna: Dr. Harold Shinitzy says both doctors and parents need to probe when it comes to pain treatment.
Dr. Harold Shinitzy: So as a parent, you need to take a more advocating role and ask your provider, “Why are they going this route? Why is it automatically an opioid painkiller?” The provider needs to ask questions like, “Is there a family history of addiction?”
Jenna: But John’s parents had no idea if there was a family history of addiction. They had adopted John when he was a baby.
Mrs. Haskell: We know now what these drugs do.
Jenna: They say the doctor never warned them about the addictive nature of the drug.
Mr. Haskell: [We] jumped to the conclusion, “Hey, this is what the doctor prescribed, this is what we’re going to take.”
Jenna: Jamison Monroe, founder of Newport Academy, has seen dozen of teens go from athlete to addict with one prescription.
Jamison Monroe: At that age, to introduce such a powerful, prescription narcotic drug to their system is only going to have damaging effects. And we know that the younger someone starts using drugs, the more likely they are to develop an addiction.
Life in Recovery
Jenna: John knows that one prescription changed his life.
John: I was really, really angry that this had to happen to me. This manifested itself through something that I loved so much and was really everything to me. And through that, I got this addiction.
Jenna: These teens are now sober and living a full life. Do you feel that, in some ways, you’re the lucky ones?
Spencer: I would say, if we stick to this path and continue to do what we’re doing, that we’re definitely the lucky ones.
Jess: I couldn’t ask for anything more. I’m so grateful for where I am today.
Spencer: I’m happy. I’ve got good relationships. I have trust with my family, my parents trust me today. That’s good, that’s really good.
Jenna: John is two years sober and wants to be a drug counselor. Jess still swims every day and is also two years sober, and Spencer is six months sober. But for parents—ask questions.
Remove the Stigma
No one should have to walk this path alone. In addition, we should not feel shame for struggling. Also, we need to remove the stigma around drugs. As a result, as more of us talk about opioids, more will get honest. And, hopefully many will get the help they need. Therefore, the more who recover, the more light will shine on the truth.
Most noteworthy, people are dying from opiates. Furthermore, we can save many lives if we bring this issue out of the shadow. Consequently, the time to sit back in silence is over. Therefore, the more open we are, the more people we can save. In conclusion, by talking about this topic, you could save someone’s life. Most of all, please know that you are not alone.
Thank you for taking the time to read about these courageous teens. In addition to hearing their stories, we hope you will talk to those you love. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you or someone you know needs help, please find support. In conclusion, help is available.