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Local problem gets national attention

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The March issue of "Seventeen" magazine, a publication that has gained the reputation as the bible for teenage girls, features a story of a 17-year-old Florida teenager who died last year from a prescription drug overdose. The story was written following the release of a new study conducted by Seventeen and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). This study revealed that more girls than boys were abusing prescription drugs and that the effects of drug and alcohol use on teenage girls had a more profound impact, both physically and psychologically, than it did on boys.

According to the ONDCP report, teenage girls use drugs and alcohol for different reasons than boys. Girls experience a drop in self-esteem and self-confidence during early adolescence. To combat these feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, teen girls often look to alcohol or drugs to give them an attitude boost, to increase their feeling of confidence and help them lose their inhibitions. The desire to lose weight and stay thin is another reason some young girls say they turn to drugs. What's so sad about this desire to seek false confidence in drugs and alcohol is that both often increase the risk of depression.

Don't get this study wrong. It is not saying that boys can get away with drug and alcohol use. We know this is not the case. The problem of drinking and drug use among teenagers is rampant and has the power to destroy lives regardless of gender. What this study does reveal is the myth that boys are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs. That may have been true in the past, but new studies are showing girls are finding equality in this arena as well.

The ONDCP study showed that nearly one in five teenagers nationwide reported abusing prescription medications, which they described as easy to obtain. Among young people ages 12 to 17, prescription drugs have become the second most abused illegal drug behind marijuana. These teens also shared their misconceptions that ingesting prescription medication is somehow safer than illegal drugs. Combine this mindset with a trend called "pharming" where they combine prescription drugs by grabbing handfuls from a bowl of pills and you can see how deadly the consequences can be. In the case of the girl from Florida, she died despite warnings from friends who told her to slow down. In just one short semester, this girl's days were consumed with taking pills, sleeping and then waking up to get high again. When told she could die, the young teenager told her friends "I'm fine. I just love partying and taking pills." At age 17, this popular young girl passed out, was carried to a friend's bedroom to "sleep it off" and never woke up again.

This is a story that should scare every parent of every teenager living in Barry County. We share it to get your attention so you can become part of the solution to a problem that has plagued the young people of Barry County for at least six years as far as we can tell. This problem may just be grabbing the attention of the nation, but locally, law enforcement and area schools have known about prescription drug abuse for a much longer time.

In the case of this type of drug abuse, John Walters, the White House drug czar and director of ONDCP, is quick to point out "the drug dealer is us." When he says us, he refers to parents, grandparents and anyone who comes in contact with teenagers. Many teens (more than 60 percent) get their prescription drugs from the medicine cabinets of unsuspecting adults. More teens report having been offered prescription drugs than other illicit drugs. Some of the more commonly abused drugs are those that are commonly prescribed by physicians - OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax, Adderall and hydrocodone. These drugs turn deadly in the hands of teenagers, and studies show that teenagers are more likely than adults to become dependent on prescription medication. In 2004, more than 29 percent of teens in treatment were dependent on prescription drugs. Over the last 10 years, the number of teens seeking treatment for addiction to prescription pain medication increased by more than 300 percent.

The problem is real, and as parents and concerned adults, we are in a position to be part of the solution. First of all, we should keep track of what's in our medicine cabinet and throw away unused medication. If need be, keep your medicine under lock and key and away from the curious eyes of the young people in your life.

The second most important thing you can do is stay involved in your child's life. Teenagers love their space but that doesn't mean they are ready for complete hands-off freedom, especially while they live under your roof and you're paying bills. Research shows that parental disapproval plays a strong role in preventing teens from using drugs. In fact, teens who are regularly monitored by their parents are less likely to use drugs.