Medications are only one part of your child’s pain management plan.

Opioids are strong prescription pain medications with the potential for serious side effects and complications. Common opioid names include oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine and codeine. It is important to know that codeine is not recommended for use in children.

Because of their risks, opioids are not usually the starting point to treat acute pain. Over-the-counter medications and non-medication techniques should be the first ways pain is treated. Together, they are often enough to manage your child’s pain. If an opioid is prescribed, it is usually only for breakthrough pain after surgery.

Breakthrough pain is severe pain despite over-the-counter medications and non-medication techniques. Know that even if you are using an opioid for breakthrough pain, you should still use the over-the-counter medications recommended and non-medication techniques. This will allow you to use as little of the opioid as possible.

Some opioids already contain acetaminophen. If this is the case, your child may be unable to take over-the-counter acetaminophen with the opioid. Check the label and discuss this with your pharmacist.

Opioid Side Effects

Anyone who uses an opioid is at risk for these side effects:

Nausea and/or vomiting
Constipation (difficulty having a bowel movement)
Slowed Breathing
Impaired motor skills, thinking or judgment. Teens should not drive while using an opioid.

Children who are obese or have obstructive sleep apnea or snoring have a higher risk of sleepiness or slowed breathing from an opioid. 

Because opioids can cause sleepiness and slowed breathing, do not use them to help your child sleep.  

Opioid Risks

Anyone who uses an opioid, even for a short time, is at risk for dependence, tolerance, misuse, addiction and overdose.

Adolescents are especially at risk for opioid misuse and addiction because the parts of the brain that control impulsiveness and decision-making are still developing. In addition, peer pressure can also affect their behavior. Other factors that increase the risk of OUD include:

  • Personal history of depression and/or anxiety
  • Family history of substance use disorder

For more information, please see teens.drugabuse.gov.

Tips for safe opioid use:

  • Tell your doctor about any other medications your child is taking and if your child has a history of opioid misuse or addiction, depression or anxiety or a family history of addiction.
  • Do not use opioids along with antihistamines such as Benadryl or sleep medications.
  • Only use the opioid for the reason, dose and frequency that it was prescribed and use it for the shortest possible time period. If your child doesn’t need it, don’t use it and dispose of it properly.
  • Write down what medications you’re giving your child and when.  This will help you be sure you’re using the medication only as prescribed.
  • Double-check dosing to make sure you’re giving only the amount prescribed.
  • Watch your child for signs of side effects or complications, and if you notice them, contact your provider.
  • Lock the opioid medication in a safe place. If you cannot lock it up, keep it out of common areas of the house. 
  • Do not share your child’s opioid with anyone else.  It is a prescription only for your child. 
  • Dispose of any remaining medication in a safe way when your child has recovered. Keeping opioids in your home is risky. Children may accidentally take it and overdose, and others may find it and misuse it. Ask your pharmacy if they have home drug deactivation/disposal kits to give you so you can safely dispose of your medication.