Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

KPBS Midday Edition

Opioid Crisis Gripping More Addicts Before Adulthood

Schedule 2 narcotics: Morphine Sulfate, OxyContin and Opana are displayed for a photograph in Carmichael, Calif., Jan. 18, 2013.
Associated Press
Schedule 2 narcotics: Morphine Sulfate, OxyContin and Opana are displayed for a photograph in Carmichael, Calif., Jan. 18, 2013.

In communities across the country, there is something snatching away bright futures and turning children into addicts. The face of the opioid crisis is getting younger.

“I have kids that come to my courtroom who say they started using at 9, but they didn’t get caught for a few years. So, the youngest ones in my program right now officially are about 12,” said Judge Tony Capizzi.

He is president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and was recently in San Diego for the national conference, where kids and opioids were a main topic. He runs a juvenile drug court in Dayton, Ohio where overdoses are double the rate of San Diego's. His program is one of the most successful in the country and it’s been around for 14 years. According to Capizzi, that’s an age some of the kids who end up on the other side of his bench will never live to see.


“I have on my bench right now about 20 pictures of kids from my program who have died,” Capizzi said.

RELATED: Growing Number Of Babies Born Addicted To Opioids

According to the last national survey on drug use and health, one in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 are using illicit drugs, much of it in the form of painkillers. The crisis stretches across the country. In San Diego County there were 400 overdose deaths last year. Interim District Attorney Summer Stephan said some of those who died were just kids.

“I've talked to one too many parents who have lost young kids to overdoses from painkillers. It starts off with a simple injury, a sports injury. The kid gets on oxy or percocets," Stephan said.

Once the patient is prescribed the painkillers, they become addicted, she said. After access to prescription pills runs out they turn to heroin, which is a much cheaper and a more accessible fix.

Opioid Crisis Gripping More Addicts Before Adulthood

RELATED: Pain Specialist Doctor Discusses Different Ways To Treat Chronic Pain

Parents and even grandparents have to look for signs of addiction, Capizzi said.

“I hate to say it to you, but you better lock up your medicine cabinet. If you're a grandparent and you've got grandkids coming over to see you a lot, to me that’s a warning sign. They're coming over and while they talk to you for 10 minutes they're going in the bathroom and stealing drugs,” he said.

It's also important to pay attention to who your child is hanging around with and what type of social situations they are engaging in, Capizzi said.

“I tell people if your kids tell you they're going to go to a party where they're going to have salad for dinner, that’s bad," he said. "A salad dinner means access to the party requires you take 5 pills from your parents’ medicine cabinet. They may be uppers or downers. You throw them in the salad bowl. They get mixed up and the kids take one or two beers with two pills, whatever is in there to get high. And that’s a salad party."

Capizzi said last Christmas four of the teens in his juvenile treatment court program died to overdoses after attending similar parties where some of those drugs were laced with Fentanyl.

Fentanyl is synthetic and can be thousands of times more potent than heroin. One dose can be fatal.

So, right now, all over the country states are looking at legislation to change prescribing practices so patients aren’t turned into addicts. In California, Senate Bill 1109 requires more patient education when prescribing opioids, especially for kids.

“We need to tell the truth. We need the pharmaceutical industries to tell consumers the truth. So this law would require labeling that would tell consumers that these painkillers can result in overdose deaths and that they are addictive,” Stephan said.

RELATED: President Trump Vows To ‘Liberate’ U.S. From Opioid Crisis

In Ohio, Capizzi wants to see more limits on opioid prescriptions.

“Right now doctors give you drugs for 30 days. That’s too long. So, there’s a bill being pushed out that says doctors can give you drugs for three days and that’s it. That’s it! You need more, you go back three days later,” Capizzi said.

All of this with the hope of recovering bright futures.

“It’s tragic. I still haven't found a kid who really wants to die, but they do,” Capizzi said.

Opioid Crisis Gripping More Addicts Before Adulthood
The opioid crisis is expanding and those who work in the criminal justice system are noticing an even more disturbing trend. A growing number of kids are getting hooked.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.