The Opiate Epidemic and the Young Addict

By Marc Leach

As recently as the 1990s, men and women in their 30s, 40s, 50s and even 60s were the primary clients in substance abuse rehab centers across America. These baby boomers had an affinity for traditional drugs such as alcohol, cocaine and speed. Many were working-class people seeking a reprieve from their addiction.

Today, however, the nation’s substance abuse rehab centers have a vastly different and younger clientele – anywhere between the ages of 16 and 27 – and with a taste for pharmaceutical drugs, benzodiazepines such as Xanax, or poppy-derived opiates such as oxycodone or heroin.

The Opiate Epidemic and the Young Addict

The Opiate Epidemic and the Young Addict

“It’s a different world out there today,” said Allison Dean, Program Director at Chandler Valley Hope, a rehab center in Chandler, Arizona. “We are in an era where prescription drugs are readily available to young boys and girls in the medicine cabinet. This generation of addicts doesn’t have to work hard to get their hands on opiates or scripts [prescriptions]; and when these drugs become too expensive, they turn to something much cheaper and more deadly – heroin.”

Dean, who is pursuing her doctorate degree in chemical dependency, says that researchers studying addiction can hardly keep up with the opiate abuse epidemic among young people. “[It] now borders on being pandemic.” Dean said, “We are stumped. We’re searching for ways to stem the tide of opiate addiction among these young addicts.”

According to Gonzalo Ardavin, CEO and President of Carla Vista Sober Living in Gilbert, Arizona, “It’s mind-boggling to see the number of young people who are hooked on opiates today. The average age of our clients is 24.” He continued, “It’s rare to see someone older than 30 in any of our sober living homes.”

Rehab centers around the country are seeking to help this new generation of addicts restore their lives and reconnect with their families; however, these centers are challenged by managed health care systems that determine the number of days an addict can stay in treatment. “We should not put a cap on treatment when it’s a life or death matter.” Dean explains, “Ten or 20 days of treatment are hardly enough to prevent the addict from relapsing after discharge.”

Ardavin notes that one of the primary reasons for launching Carla Vista Sober Living seven years ago was to provide a safe environment for young people who didn’t have enough money to pay for rehab once their insurance provider stopped paying for their treatment.

We offer an economical sober living [environment] for these young men and women to develop their life skills so they may eventually re-enter society as sober and productive citizens. Carla Vista is not a treatment center; rather, it is a recovery residence that helps individuals gain the discipline needed to become part of the fellowship of recovery – by attending Twelve Step meetings, as well as getting an introduction to the principles behind each Step, highlighting the program’s effective design for living a better life.

Tom Fay, Vice President of Carla Vista, is proof that the sober living environment is a feasible alternative for those unable to afford extended rehab treatment. Upon completion of treatment at The River Source, Fay knew he needed more time to ensure his recovery. A shortage of funds forced him to consider other options. He and his counselor determined that his best opportunity to stay sober would be to check into a sober living environment. On that recommendation, he entered Carla Vista.

Approaching four years of continuous sobriety, Fay reflects on where he was prior to treatment and where he is now – a leader in the recovery field.

I can honestly say that I was willing to quit 16 years of popping pills and using heroin in order to get sober and stay sober. I got sober at The River Source rehab; but I stayed sober because I took the suggestion of my River Source counselor and checked into Carla Vista where I was able to build on my recovery foundation. Here, I learned responsibility, accountability and how to interact positively with others. I haven’t looked back since, and today I am blessed to be part of this sober living organization.

For more information about Carla Vista Sober Living, contact Gonzalo Ardavin at 745 N. Gilbert Road, Suite 124, PMB 147, Gilbert, Arizona 85234. Ardavin can also be contacted by phone at 888.591.4555 or by email at

Interesting Information about Opiates

(Source: Rehab International – Drug & Alcohol Rehab Guides)

–       Opiates make up 83 percent of rehab admissions for intravenous drug addictions. Second in line is methamphetamine, followed by cocaine.

–       A National Institute of Drug Abuse survey shows a little over a decade ago (2001), an estimated 16 million Americans ages 12 or older were using illicit drugs at the time, i.e., had ingested drugs within a month of taking the survey. Such a figure does not take into account survey responses that were untruthful (a proportion of respondents are inevitably inclined to lie about the scope of their drug use).

–       Young adults ages 12 to 17 report that the number one way in which they access opiate drugs (in this case, prescription drugs) is through family members or friends, either directly or indirectly. An indirect example is a teenager who may steal prescription pills from a parent’s medicine cabinet, unbeknownst to that parent.

–       Young adults perceive prescription pills, such as opioid pain relievers, to be less dangerous than illicit drugs, primarily because they are available by legal prescription within the US. Because of the stigma attached to drugs purchased on the black market, young adults think they are choosing a “safe” alternative to illicit drugs when they opt for prescription drugs.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly ReportJune 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance — United States, 2013
(Percentage of high school students who ever took prescription drugs*, by sex, race/ethnicity and grade)
Category Female Male Total
% % %
White 18.0 19.4 18.7
Black 11.1 15.7 13.3
Hispanic 19.9 18.5 19.2
9 14.0 10.9 12.4
10 16.9 17.6 17.3
11 19.5 22.3 20.8
12 18.6 24.0 21.3
Total 17.2 18.3 17.8
* Took prescription drugs (e.g., Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, codeine, Adderall, Ritalin, or Xanax) without a doctor’s prescription one or more times during their life.

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