Opioid Use and Our Teens

In a world full of issues that makes turning on the evening news a sad event, the opioid epidemic taking place in our country is surely going to make the list. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioids are a class of drugs which, unlike other classes, includes both the legal or prescribed, and illegal kinds.

Unfortunately, New Jersey knows the pain of this epidemic a little too well. According to the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General, there have been a recorded 1,138 overdose deaths in the state since January 1st 2018 (njcares.gov). Many studies on the topic have been conducted or are in the process of being carried out by experts across the nation. There are also a great deal of initiatives taking place right here in New Jersey to stop the increasing statistics.
Our teens are especially at risk because heroin is available and it’s “affordable”. With their still developing brains, they are likely to become addicted and not likely to access treatment.

Opioids By Name
We know these as prescription pain killers and there is a high physical and emotional addiction to them – they include: oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine and morphine. There is also a synthetic opioid called fentanyl. Oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine and morphine can be addictive both physically and emotionally.
To get technical, opioids derive from the opium poppy plant and have both relaxing and pain relieving effects on the body. These effects can be very helpful to people suffering with pain, but are also the reason people use and abuse these substances for non-medical purposes.

Opioids bind to and activate opioid receptors that are located in cells all over the brain. This process results in the body feeling less pain and sense of euphoria. This is where the emotional addiction kicks in. There is also a significant amount of dopamine released throughout the body when someone uses opioids. This process is what strongly reinforces taking the drug repeatedly, as the user begins continuously craving that feeling.  (drugabuse.gov)

Training Our Medical Providers

NJ Cares was launched in February of this year to address this issue. It uses a team approach involving law enforcement officials and other agencies. Working with New Jersey police departments and Emergency Medical Technicians, NJ Cares provides these individuals with support and resources to help identify as well as provide assistance for people addicted to opioids. One of these resources is the usage of Statewide Opioid Response Teams (ORT), which is a 24/7 program in which crisis intervention is provided for individuals who are addicted to opioids.

Mental health advocates, substance abuse recovery advocates, and EMTs will work together with police officers to provide support and referrals to treatment programs for those who need them. Also, part of the ORT program is extensive training to members so they are well versed in de-escalation techniques and methods to utilize when working with those suffering from opioid addiction.

Many studies shed light on a central theme that plays a significant part in addressing this issue: doctors. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (aka SAMHSA), millions of people are prescribed opioid drugs each year to treat medical conditions that may lead to severe pain that is otherwise difficult to manage for patients. Such instances are pain following a surgery or a bone fracture. (samhsa.gov). Both SAMHSA and the CDC have launched programs that include continuing education for prescribers as well as information for patients so they can better determine if opioids are truly necessary and if so, to ensure they are continuously monitored and used appropriately.

The Stats
Another key aspect of NJ Cares is its creation of a website driven by data in real time. A quick look on NJCares.gov will show site visitors information on opioid overdoses broken down by county, as well as monthly reports. This website aims to show people in real time how significant of an issue this is and to inspire individuals to have a conversation about this very real problem.

Warning Signs that Your Child May be Addicted
Sudden changes in behavior can be caused by multiple factors, but one of significance is drug use. It is important to take note of changes in your adolescent’s mood and behavior, especially if they are suddenly appearing tired often or if they begin displaying a hostile attitude. The National Institute on Drug Abuse lists these other warning signs (drugabuse.gov):
– carelessness with grooming
– a change in peer group
– decline in academic performance
– missing classes or skipping school
– loss of interest in favorite activities
– changes in eating or sleeping habits
– deteriorating relationships with family members and friends


The internet brings a wealth of resources to families in need of substance abuse treatment. SAMHSA runs a helpful service locator tool which can be found at findtreatment.samhsa.gov. SAMHSA also runs a 24/7 hotline which also provides referrals to local treatment facilities as well as support groups and community based agencies. This hotline phone number is 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Once an adolescent is discharged from a rehabilitation facility, there are various treatment options available to them. Finding a therapist who has substance abuse counseling experience is key when choosing a treatment provider. Another beneficial factor to look out for is to work with a therapist who utilizes a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach to treatment. CBT helps people in recovery identify negative thought patterns which are then linked to behaviors. CBT assists people struggling with addiction by assisting them in utilizing positive coping skills in response to harmful thought patterns, leading to an increase in emotional regulation.

Reducing the stigma surrounding substance abuse can help individuals suffering from substance abuse feel comfortable seeking out assistance when it is needed. Families should be encouraged to browse this website frequently and have discussions with each other on the topic, specifically developmentally appropriate conversations with children and adolescents from parents and guardians.

The opioid epidemic is a very real problem in New Jersey. There are a few steps individuals can take, whether they are being prescribed opioid drugs or they are community members who want to help reduce the stigma. Having these conversations is vital in addressing the issue and making much needed changes to these very concerning statistics.


by Nicole Filiberti, LSW
"The various psycho-educational testing Dr. Liz conducted on our son gave us critical clues about where his learning strengths and weaknesses lie so that his needs could be better addressed at home and school. Moreover, because of their warm, kindhearted personalities, both Dr. Liz and her associate, Stephanie, formed an immediate bond with my son. He eagerly looks forward to his weekly therapy sessions. We are so lucky Dr. Liz came into our family's lives when she did! For stressed-out families trying to help their children as best they can, she is a calming voice of reason!"
- Julie C.
"Dr. Matheis has a remarkable ability to understand the unique needs of her patients and address them constructively. She builds strong, meaningful relationships with patients and their families, encouraging trust and collaboration. When working with my son who struggles with autism-related anxiety, she created an environment in which he was able to calm down and open up to her in ways I had not seen before. She was able to reach him and helped him work through his crisis/problem. Most importantly, she empowered him to move forward."
- N.L.
"Dr. Matheis is amazing. She has tremendous resources and loads of energy. She is not willing to accept anything less than the most effective results for her clients. She made me feel as if my son was her top priority throughout the entire process. I would, without reservation, give her my highest recommendations.  Thank you, Dr. Matheis!"
- Anonymous
"Dr. Matheis has an amazing ability to read kids and connect with them. She has been an invaluable resource for our family over the past several years and has helped us with everything from educational consulting, to uncovering diagnoses as well as family therapy. Working with Dr. Matheis never feels clinical and most importantly, our children love and trust her. We can not thank you enough Dr. Liz!"
- Anonymous
"My teenage son had been seeing Dr. Matheis through his senior year of high school, as he was only diagnosed with ADHD at 16 years old.  Dr. Matheis came highly recommended from our pediatrician and she has done wonders for our son as well as our family, navigating new ways for him to deal with his diagnosis without the use of medication.  She taught him ways to organize himself and even when something did not work for him, she patiently continued teaching him new ways to keep himself on track.  She has also helped us as parents to understand how his mind works so that we did not continue to blame his lack of focus on him, rather on his unique way of thinking.  Thank you Dr. Matheis!!!!"
- LG
"Dr. Liz is the best! Our family was directed to her by our Pediatrician to assist with figuring out severe mood changes, severe anxiety, strange new fears and food aversion that had come onto one of our children literally overnight. After just a couple of visits, she suggested that the issues may actually be rooted in a physical issue and suggested we immediately take our child to be swabbed for strep, because Dr. Liz suspected PANDAS (a pediatric autoimmune disorder brought on by strep). The same Pediatrician that suggested Dr. Liz would not do the swab (they do not believe in PANDAS and we no longer go there) but I took my child to my doctor who did the swab and it was positive for strep. When our child went on antibiotics, within 24 hours all symptoms went away and our child was back :-) Dr. Liz then recommended a PANDAS specialist who helped us and our child is in complete remission and is happy and healthy. We are incredibly grateful to Dr. Liz for her knowledge of all things, even the most remote and unusual and for helping us so much! Thank you!"
- Anonymous
"The various psycho-educational testing Dr. Liz conducted on our son gave us critical clues about where his learning strengths and weaknesses lie so that his needs could be better addressed at home and school. Moreover, because of their warm, kindhearted personalities, both Dr. Liz and her associate, Stephanie, formed an immediate bond with my son. He eagerly looks forward to his weekly therapy sessions. We are so lucky Dr. Liz came into our family's lives when she did! For stressed-out families trying to help their children as best they can, she is a calming voice of reason!"
- Anonymous
"Thank you, Dr. Liz. Although we have told you countless times, it will never feel enough. You have listened when J could barely speak and continued to listen when he was sad, angry and confused. You've challenged him and directed us in our roles as parents. You've helped J face his fears while the list evolved and changed, and yet you've stayed committed to 'the course.' We pray that your children realize that time away from them is spent helping children learn and that vulnerability is a sign of strength and bravery."
- June I
"My son was admitted to an Ivy League school when only 2 years ago, you assessed him and saw his struggles, his Dyslexia. We are grateful that he no longer has to carry that deep feeling of inadequacy or shame that must have kept him so self conscious and from reaching his potential. He has the PERFECT program for him. He has A's in high math and economics. He became a Merit Scholar, a Boys State legislature, the HEAD captain of the football team and help a job ALL while studying and managing his classes and disability. I am PROUD of you, a young doctor, who knows and sees the vulnerability of children and helps them recognize "it's NO big deal" God bless."
- Anonymous

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