The sobering facts
--Children as young
as 10 and 11 are experimenting with heroin.
--Nearly 22 percent
of kids report coming to school, at one time or another, under the influence
--One out of five
high-schoolers admit to binge-drinking on the weekend.
--Fully 60 percent
of regular marijuana users graduate to a stronger drug.
--Fully 66 percent
of kids have tried marijuana by the time they’re in 12th grade.
--Only 25 percent
of parents talk to their kids abut the use of over-the-counter medications.
--Four out of five
heroin users started by misusing prescription medications.
If you’re a parent
and those statistics don’t scare the daylights out of you, you’ve stuck your
head in the sand: that was the bottom-line message of Chesterton High
School’s Drug Prevention and Outreach Program in the CHS auditorium on
For Todd Willis,
director of prevention and education at Porter-Starke Services, the first
hurdle not only kids but their parents have to confront is the myth that
marijuana is not a gateway drug. “I hate the term ‘gateway drug,’” he
said. “People like to debate it. But there’s no way around it. The evidence
is clear. I haven’t met one addict who didn’t start the process with
marijuana, cigarettes, alcohol.”
“Nobody wakes up
one day and says ‘I want to start using heroin,’” Willis noted.
The problem is
this: the cultural tide is rolling and inevitable. “The legalization of pot
is coming this way,” he said, and it’s hard to convince kids that smoking
marijuana is the same as playing with fire when one state after another is
legalizing the recreational use of the stuff.
Even parents who,
once upon a time maybe fired one up themselves now and again--with no ill
effect and no legal repercussions--and who may be inclined to look
tolerantly on the occasional use of marijuana, have no idea how powerful
weed has become. At Woodstock, Willis observed, the THC content of marijuana
was around 1 percent. Now marijuana is being grown with a THC content of 20
to 30 percent. It’s really powerful stuff.
And it’s health
effects are hardly negligible. Marijuana smoke is 50 to 70 percent more
carcinogenic than tobacco smoke, Willis said. Long-term use has been
positively linked to brain tissue damage, respiratory damage, chromosomal
damage, decreased sex drive, increased risk for schizophrenia, loss of
income and financial insecurity, and school, family, and legal troubles.
Willis offered this
list of warning signs of substance abuse (many of which, of course, are also
the simple symptoms of adolescence):
relationship with family members or friends.
--Mood changes or
clumsiness, stumbling, lack of coordination, poor balance.
--Unable to speak
intelligibly, slurred speech, or rapid-fire speech.
sleeplessness, followed by long periods of “catch-up sleep.”
Two Tips from the
Speaking on Porter
County’s opioid epidemic was Coroner Chuck Harris, one day after the release
of his 2016 annual report, which showed a surge of fatal heroin and opioid
overdoses last year.
“You have to be
knowledgeable,” Harris said. “You have to know what you’re choosing. You
have to know what the consequences are. You have to know the realities you
said, there are only three ways out when a person starts using heroin: “You
figure out early that it’s not for you and seek treatment. If you’re lucky.”
Or: “You start
dealing, get caught, and go to jail. If you’re lucky.”
(As Harris noted,
“There are some thing worse for a parent than your child going to jail.”
Or--No. 3--“I come
to your home.”
Harris had two very
practical pieces of advice for parents.
The first, which he
called the “Get Out of Jail Free Card”: Promise your children that, should
they ever find themselves in a place or situation in which they suddenly
find themselves uncomfortable or at risk, you will pick them up, any time of
the day or night, anywhere they happen to be. All they have to do is text
you a code phrase: “I love you”; “I miss you”; “I’ll be home soon.” But this
is the hard part: parents must promise their children as well that they will
not, positively will not, ask their children why they wanted
to be picked up. Get out of jail free.
The second piece of
advice: drug-test your children regularly. The point isn’t really to catch
your kids doing drugs, Harris said. On the contrary, it’s to give them a
bullet-proof excuse not to try drugs when offered them, and not to
lose face or be stigmatized when refusing them. “Well, I’d love to try but
I’ve got a crazy dad who drug-tests me all the time.”