- Written by Administrator
- Published: 20 November 2012
On Nov. 13, the Parent Connection held a forum entitled “Ten Things Parents Don’t Know about Drugs and Alcohol” at the Performing Arts Center. The discussion featured five speakers and drew approximately 175 people.
The speakers ranged from a neuroscientist, a regional director at an addiction treatment center, the Plymouth county district attorney, the director of SADD, and a mother of a young heroin addict.
Dr. Marisa Silveri, Ph.D., spoke on her studies on the teenage brain. She works at the neurodevelopment laboratory on addiction and mental health at MacLean Hospital and is also an assistant professor at both the Harvard and Boston University medical schools. At MacLean’s brain imaging center, Dr. Silveri uses the non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging technology (MRI) to understand teenage brain development.
Teen brains are different from adult brains and children’s brains, said Silveri.
In the teenage years, the brain is undergoing something she calls “remodeling,” a transformation that improves the speed and efficiency of neurons and removes insufficient or unnecessary neurons. The frontal lobe of a teen brain is the last area of the brain to develop and that is the area that controls planning, organization, problem solving, memory, judgment and impulse control, to name a few functions.
Silveri said a brain does not complete this transformation until a person reaches 20 to 22 years, and during the transformation, a teen’s brain is very vulnerable. Alcohol or drugs, such as marijuana, can alter the functioning of a teen’s brain.
Silveri said her tests on teens who identified themselves as “recreational or weekend” drinkers or marijuana users showed that they had less brain activity.
“Alcohol and marijuana affect memory, learning, and judgment in teens,” said Silveri. “They have trouble with thinking and problem solving. Memory is particularly susceptible.”
Silveri noted that teens who drank did about ten percent worse on memory tests than those who didn’t drink. Kids who smoked marijuana show less brain activity, she said, but their brains are more active when they are at rest. Also, their brains have to use more energy to do the same tasks than do brains not affected by marijuana.
Silveri said it takes the average adult brain 30 days for cognitive affects of marijuana to wear off, but it takes 60 days for a teen’s brain to be rid of the effects of pot.
“Any exposure to alcohol and marijuana changes how the brain functions at every level, including the frontal lobe,” Silveri said. “Decision making can be knocked out very easily.”
Alcohol is the number one drug of choice for teens, said Plymouth county district attorney Tim Cruz, and alcohol these days takes on many forms, strengths and shapes.
Traci Wojciechowski is the regional director of Caron alcohol and drug treatment centers, based in Pennsylvania. She identified new trends in drugs and alcohol.
Binge drinking and drinking games are eternally popular, she said, but now teens are into things such as “pre-gaming,” which is drinking before going out to a party, snorting or vaporizing alcohol to try to get high more quickly, making “boozy bears,” which is soaking gummy bear candies in alcohol, or taking shots of alcohol to the eyes.
Wojciechowski said there is a barrage of new drinks that are appealing to underage drinkers such as pocket shots, which she calls “the Capri sun alcohol” because it looks like a juice bag,” “Binge in a Can,” a fruit flavored alcoholic energy drink made by Colt 45, “Scotch in a can,” which is a 12 ounce can that is 40 percent alcohol by volume and equals one and a half ounces of alcohol, and energy drinks like 4-Loco that combine sedatives and stimulants.
Wojciechowski also addressed how teens use marijuana, which includes joints, bongs, and making blunts – hollowed out cigars filled with pot – or vaporizing it using a vaporizer easily found on-line. This method, she said, is no safer than smoking it.
“Kids think that vaporizers take out the harmful chemicals but they don’t,” she said.
Wojciechowski said synthetic marijuana is marked as incense or potpourri and has a strong clove smell. Often sold under the name Scooby Snacks, it is banned by the federal government, she said.
Salvia is another marijuana-like drug that teens use. It is a legal herb common to Mexico, south and central America. It is used by chewing the leaves, drinking the juice of the leaves or by smoking it. It creates hallucinations. Salvia users often have mood swings or emotional detachment, said Wojciechowski.
Other trends include using tobacco in various ways and forms: smoking it via a Hookah, snorting smokeless tobacco or using a new spitless, smokeless tobacco.
Wojciechowski said by far the most prevalent drugs teens abuse are prescription drugs.
“Prescription drugs are an epidemic,” she said. “Every day 2,500 youths ages 12-17 abuse prescription drugs for the first time.”
They include painkillers such as Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicadin and depressants such as Xanax, Ambien, and Valium.
Cruz said kids often start on pain killers because they are easy to obtain and doctors frequently prescribe pills such as Percocets or Oxycontin to parents or teens after an injury or surgery.
People abuse Oxycontin by wiping off the time-release coating so the effects hit them all at once, said Cruz, adding that parents have wondered what the green stuff is on their wash clothes and where all their spoons have gone. The green coloring is the time-release coating, he said.
Cruz said that using Oxycontin usually lead to heroin use. One Oxycontin pill costs $80 while heroin is $3 a bag and it’s now 90 percent pure.
“It’s so pure and it’s so cheap,” said Cruz.
Speaker Nancy Holler of Quincy told a heart wrenching story about her son’s struggle with his addiction to heroin.
Holler’s son Brendan became a heroin addict in the way Cruz described – starting with Percocets right out of the home medicine cabinet.
A well-liked student athlete, Brendan was an honor student at Boston College high school with a college scholarship when his grades began to slip and he didn’t make the baseball team senior year, said Holler. Even though he graduated high school and went off to college, he didn’t stay. Over time, his appearance, his hygiene and his clothing all changed for the worse.
“I knew something was wrong,” said Holler of Quincy.
She and her husband had noticed that medication had been missing from their medicine cabinet and soon money also began disappearing from their home.
“I confronted Brendan but he denied it,” she said.
When he finally admitted to using Oxycontin, Holler helped her son get into a detox program, but that was the first of many treatment programs her son entered. After each one, he was back to using drugs, which eventually took the form of shooting heroin.
Holler describes the effect of heroin on her son and on her family as “devastating.”
“It felt like someone stabbed me in the heart,” she said.
Brendan continued to struggle and relapse for years, going in and out of treatment centers and homeless shelters. In 2009, he overdosed in the bathroom of his family’s home and was saved by paramedics with Narcan, an injection used to reverse the effects of an opiate (narcotic) overdose.
After the overdose, Holler’s family no longer allowed her son to come home and Holler still deals daily with the consequences of her son’s drug use.
“Right now I don’t know where my son is,” she said. “Five weeks ago was the last time I spoke to him. I pray every day that Brendan is still alive. We don’t sleep at night and we wait for the phone call that says he’s dead. Drugs have destroyed my son’s life and my family’s. I love my son but I hate what he has become. We thought we were doing everything right but drugs don’t discriminate.”
Cruz said he has seen how teenage drinking has ruined lives and he said parents must not give their underage kids alcohol, thinking that if teens are going to drink anyway that it’s safer for them to drink at home.
Bad idea, said Cruz: “It’s against the law.”
Under the Social Host law, adults can face criminal and civil charges if they give liquor to a minor. The law states that anyone who furnishes alcohol for anyone under 21 years of age shall be punished by a fine of not more than $2,000 or by imprisonment for not more than one year or both. The word “furnish” means to knowingly or intentionally supply, give, or provide alcohol or allow someone to drink alcohol.
Cruz said there’s no safe way to allow teens to drink including taking the car keys at a party: “They’re probably going to give you their mother’s other set of car keys,” he said.
He cited an $8 million judgment against a family who held a graduation party with alcohol.
“Kids snuck out and someone died,” he said.
Cruz also offered statistics on local opiate overdose deaths, which have been on the rise in the last five years. In 2008, there were 23 overdose deaths from opiates in Plymouth County; that number has risen to 38 in 2011 and it stands at 28 for 2012 so far. Cruz said Duxbury has recorded only one overdose death from opiates.
Despite their tales of the horrors of teenage alcohol and drug use, each speaker offered hope for parents.
Their message: parents can make a difference in preventing their kids from using drugs and alcohol.
The final speaker was Julie Nussmaum, the director of SADD, which now stands for Students Against Destructive Decisions. The organization which began in 1981 as Students Against Drunk Driving, changed its name and mission in 1997. According to Nussbaum, SADD is a peer-to-peer education, prevention, and activism organization dedicated to preventing destructive decisions, particularly underage drinking, drug use, teen violence and suicide. There is a chapter of SADD at Duxbury High School.
Nussbaum said that when parents talk to their kids, teens do listen.
“You as parents have more influence than you might imagine,” she said. “Parental disapproval is the number one reason why teens don’t drink. The number one reason they do is peer approval.”
All speakers said parents need to set a clear message for their teens and have a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol and drug use.
“Ninety-five percent of addicts started before age 20,” said Wojciechowski. “Prevention is the key.”
Parents need to tune into their teens and encourage and communicate with them, Nussbaum said. She suggests parents “catch them doing something good.”
Nussbaum said parents must set limits and expectations and, most importantly, know their kids’ friends and the parents of those friends. She regularly hears from parents that they want other parents to call them.
“You are not alone in your concerns,” she said.
“The greatest prevention is parental involvement,” said Cruz. “Go on their real Facebook, not their fake Facebook that they give you. You have access to their phones. You’re paying the bills. They need you to tell them what to do. Be their parent, not their friend.”