Metro

State launches campaign to help parents talk to teens about opioids

Four out of five people who use heroin began by misusing prescription pain medications, usually prescribed to someone else.
Patrick Sison/Associated Press
Four out of five people who use heroin began by misusing prescription pain medications, usually prescribed to someone else.

State health officials are trying to enlist parents in combating the opioid epidemic, with an advertising campaign urging them to talk to their adolescent children about prescription drug misuse and addiction.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has launched a series of TV spots, social media postings, and billboards titled “Stop Addiction Before It Starts.”

The campaign, using $520,000 from the state Bureau of Substance Abuse Services and scheduled to run through mid-October, links parents to a web page (www.mass.gov/stopaddiction) offering tips on how to start a conversation about drugs and such information as how to safely dispose of unused pain pills and where to get help for addiction and recovery.

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Most people who become addicted started using drugs in adolescence.

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Dr. Monica Bharel, public health commissioner, said in a statement that parents consulted about the campaign said they understood the dangers of opioid addiction but weren’t sure how to talk about it with their children.

“This campaign is designed to educate and empower parents with the facts about opioid misuse and to provide them with real-life tips on how to talk to their kids,” Bharel said.

In the coming months, the state will launch a new phase of the campaign focusing on Hispanic parents with children in middle and high school. The latest data on opioid deaths in Massachusetts show that they are declining slightly overall but still increasing among Hispanic residents.

“Parents play an important role in protecting their kids from opioid and substance misuse, and our administration is supporting another tool to begin that conversation and to keep talking — because kids will listen,” Governor Charlie Baker said in a statement.

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According to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, youngsters whose parents talked with them about prescription pain medications were 42 percent less likely to misuse these drugs than teens whose parents didn’t.

Four out of five people who use heroin began by misusing prescription pain medications, usually prescribed to someone else. In 2015, nearly 17 percent of high school students nationwide reported taking a prescription drug without a doctor’s prescription.

“We’ve heard a lot of heartbreaking stories from parents that their kids were introduced to opioids either at parties or through friends, or were prescribed them after a sports-related injury or medical procedure,” Marylou Sudders, state secretary of health and human services, said in a statement. “We want parents to know just how strong their influence is when it comes to helping their kids understand the dangers of prescription medication misuse.”

The 30-second TV spot will run in Boston on WBZ and WCVB, and in Springfield on WWLP. It features a teenage boy in T-shirt and open hoodie who addresses his parents: “You’ve always protected me. Every day of my life. I’m older now, but I still need you. . . . I know kids are getting addicted and people are dying. Can you still protect me?”

The campaign includes digital and Facebook advertising, and 100 billboards, provided free through the Massachusetts Department of Transportation PSA program.

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Parents can find information about treatment for opioid use disorder by contacting the Massachusetts Substance Use Helpline at 800-327-5050, or by visiting www.helplinema.org.

Felice J. Freyer can be reached at felice.freyer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @felicejfreyer.