Eleven percent of high school athletes reported using prescribed pain medication just to get high by the time they were seniors, and 75 percent of parents allow youth to manage their own medications, according to the findings of a recent study by the University of Michigan.

Iris Nieves, ThinkStock

The study suggests a teen needing a few pills to manage acute pain, could ending up taking an entire 30-day prescription, which could lead to dependence and a pathway to heroin use.

In response to the growing problem, some communities are offering residents and sports organizations a free, five-week program run through the Saint Barnabas Institute for Prevention called Parenting an Athlete.

Tracy Gross, institute director, said they've been offering the Parenting an Athlete program for about a decade.

"The curriculum is specifically targeted for parents of youth who are ages 11 to 18, either involved in sports or perhaps considering involvement in sports," Gross said.

She added the program is for organized groups, and also includes cheerleading squads or chess clubs.

The Institute for Prevention is teaming up with the Brick Municipal Alliance to provide the program in January to residents and interested sports organizations.

"It's really designed to provide parents with better skills and information about youth sports, but it's really almost like a back door parenting program, so we're using sports as the vehicle to engage the parents, but it's about creating a structure for positive communication," Gross said.

That includes how to reinforce your bond with your child, how to have open conversations about substance abuse and the role that might play in sports, according to Gross.

While the Institute's programs focus on prevention, working with at-risk youth, and parents and families, Gross explained delaying the onset of substance abuse is the core of prevention, and the goal of all of its programs.

"We are predominantly grant-funded, using evidence-based curriculum, so we work in schools, throughout the state of New Jersey," Gross said.

"Participating in this free, five-week program is one of the most important things a parent can do to support their young athlete. This is particularly true for those parents whose child is a multi-sport athlete or playing multiple seasons of the same sport as they are at higher risk for injury," said Brick Councilwoman Andrea Zapcic.

Parenting an Athlete will be offered in Brick Township from Jan. 14 through Feb. 11 on Thursday's 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Brick Recreation Department. Dinner, refreshments, and incentives will be provided, as well as babysitting. Those interested can register at: parksandrecreation.bricktownship.net or by calling the Recreation office at 732-262-1044.

Parenting an Athlete is sponsored by a grant from the Governor's Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, administered by the Ocean County Health Department.

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