Pubdate: Sat, 26 Sep 2009
Source: Record, The (Kitchener, CN ON)
Copyright: 2009 The Record
Author: Luisa D'Amato


Teens are beginning to turn away from alcohol and toward drugs, but 
even if parents are busy having more 'safe adults' around can keep 
them out of trouble

The drugs your children are using are more powerful, more easily 
available and more dangerous than ever.

The marijuana they're smoking is far more powerful than in the past, 
local experts say, with higher concentrations of the active 
ingredient, a chemical called THC.

And sometimes, the drug dealers lace the marijuana with cocaine, 
hoping to make addicts of their young customers.

As well, more teens are abusing prescription drugs. They steal them 
from their parents, buy them on the street, or break into pharmacies.

A favourite: The powerful painkiller OxyContin, which can be fatal if 
it's crushed and swallowed, injected, or sniffed.

Police say the price of drugs has come down, bringing them within 
closer reach of kids who can start as young as 10 years old.

The hallucinogenic drug known as Ecstasy was $20 to $25 a pill a few 
years back. But last summer, says Det.-Const. Ron Swainson of 
Waterloo Regional Police, you could get two tablets for $10.

"Youth are more at risk of being seriously harmed on drugs than 
before," Swainson says.

And whether it's binge drinking or hallucinogenic drug-taking, we've 
got a bigger problem in this area than in the rest of Ontario.

Students in Grades 9 to 12 in the Waterloo Region and Wellington 
County areas are reporting higher use of every single illegal drug 
than the Ontario average, according to a 2007 survey for the Centre 
on Mental Health and Addictions.

More than 40 per cent of our high school students used cannabis in 
the past year, compared with 34.7 per cent across the province.

Fourteen per cent of local teens used hallucinogens, nearly twice as 
many as the 7.6 per cent across Ontario.

Ecstasy, a drug manufactured in illicit labs, is used by 7.7 per cent 
of local teens, compared with 4.7 per cent across the province

24.5 per cent of Waterloo Region students believe they have a drug 
use problem, compared to 20.1 per cent across Ontario.

Overall, teenagers are using alcohol and tobacco less, and drugs more.

High school students across Ontario have stopped smoking as much, 
with just 11.9 per cent reporting tobacco use in 2007, down from 14.4 
per cent in 2005.

Alcohol, the runaway favourite drug of choice for teens, is also down 
a tiny bit: 61.2 per cent in 2007 compared with 62 per cent in 2005.

Now OxyContin and its painkilling cousins are taking a new hold. It's 
the third most popular type of drug used among people aged 16 to 24 
who come to Grand River Hospital's withdrawal management centre to get help.

 From April to August this year, 38 people in that age group came to 
the centre for relief from addiction to OxyContin and similar drugs. 
Only cannabis, with 42 admissions, and alcohol, with 53, were higher.

"OxyContin is one of our leading drug problems," says Lesley DeYoung, 
the hospital's clinical director for adolescent outpatient services, 
including mental health and drug addiction.

If a parent has a bad back or has been in an accident, and needs 
around-the-clock pain relief, he or she might be prescribed 
OxyContin, which can relieve pain for up to 12 hours.

It's easy for their child to take one or two pills out of the bottle, 
and "nobody notices," said DeYoung.

"You can sell them on the street for good money. It's a 'nice' drug. 
It mellows everything out. These kids are pretty anxious."

OxyContin pills sell for $20 to $40 each on the street, Swainson 
says. So it can be tempting for someone with a prescription to sell a 
few pills for easy money.

Teens are beginning to turn away from alcohol and toward drugs, in 
part because drugs are easier to hide. The smell of alcohol can be a 
giveaway to adults, and the bottles are heavy. But with a drug like 
OxyContin, "you can function in school," said DeYoung.

"You look mellow."

That "mellow" feeling from drugs is desperately sought out by teens 
who have mental health problems, like low self-esteem or anxiety, experts say.

"They self-medicate," especially if their mental health issues aren't 
being addressed by professionals, says Lila Read, principal of 
Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate and Vocational School.

Read recently got funding from the province to pay for an addiction 
counsellor to work at the school.

"This has been a blessing for a lot of kids and a lot of families," she says.

But it's not just Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate that's facing this. 
"All schools suffer with addictions," Read says.

Some students don't even pay for their drugs, saying their friends 
give it to them for nothing.

For example, a young woman who is in a sexual relationship with a man 
who gives her drugs, may not make the connection between her sexual 
generosity and the "free" drugs she gets.

"They don't see that it's a trade," says Glynis Burkhalter, director 
of youth addiction services for Ray of Hope. The agency offers 
residential and outpatient drug treatment, as well as counselling to 
the community and to local high schools, including Kitchener-Waterloo 

One reason OxyContin has become so popular - its use has increased by 
80 per cent in two years across Ontario - is because teens might 
believe it's safer than other drugs.

Teens are aware that they can't always trust a dealer. An "ecstasy" 
pill can contain other drugs that don't even have the traditional 
active ingredient. Marijuana might be mixed with cocaine or crack, 
and has even been known to be "cut" with rat poison, DeYoung says.

"People feel that the tablets are a prescription medication and 
they're not dangerous," because they're produced commercially, says Swainson.

Of course, this feeling of safety is an illusion. OxyContin is so 
powerful that it has a time-release coating on it, so that when the 
pill is swallowed as directed, the pain reliever is released little 
by little inside the patient's body.

But drug abusers often crush the pills, and then swallow or snort the 
drug, or mix it with water and inject it.

Crushing the pills destroys the time-release coating. It increases 
the power of the pills so much that they can - and do-kill.

OxyContin is powerfully addictive and the withdrawal symptoms are 
very unpleasant. They include hot and cold sweats, nausea and 
vomiting, fatigue, and other flu-like symptoms.

DeYoung says parents should start asking questions if they have a 
teenager who gets "the flu" a lot.

And if adults have a prescription for OxyContin, count the pills to 
make sure no one is taking them, she advises.

Kim Baker, program consultant for the Centre for Addiction and Mental 
Health, says parents of teens should keep their OxyContin hidden away.

"If you have a toddler, you don't leave the aspirin bottle out," she 
says. "If you have a teenager, don't leave the OxyContin bottle out."

Her organization has also held a workshop for area pharmacists and 
physicians to discuss the increased dangers of prescription opioids.

It's difficult to know if your child is using something like 
OxyContin, and parents are often "heartbroken" to find out their 
child is addicted, DeYoung says.

"They're very concerned," she said. They'll ask: "What did I do 
wrong? How can I help?"

But by the time their child is addicted, there isn't a lot the parent 
can do, she said. Treatment doesn't work well if the child is brought 
in against his or her will.

Sometimes it takes a crisis for the teen to seek treatment 
wholeheartedly, like being arrested by police, or if a girlfriend or 
boyfriend leaves the teen because of the drug-taking.

Burkhalter of Ray of Hope says teens can be left unprotected by 
society's beliefs.

Many parents believe that it's part of normal adolescence for 
teenagers to turn to their friends more, and pay less attention to 
their parents.

"We believe, as adults, that kids don't need us as much," she says. 
But research indicates that this isn't so.

"They still need a safe harbour in a storm," Burkhalter says.

Teenagers aren't fully psychologically developed. They themselves can 
be unstable, with intense emotional needs. So when teens make close 
bonds with other teens, they're seeking love and approval from peers 
who can't always provide that, Burkhalter says.

Many parents care for their kids and provide them with stable and 
loving homes. But perhaps there's a job loss, and a stay-at-home 
parent must work during the day. Or a parent loses a job and has to 
go to school in the evenings to retrain.

"All of a sudden, they're not as available," she says.

Parents can't help it if they have to work or study more. But they 
don't have to feel they must raise their children alone.

They can surround the child with other stable, safe adults, like 
grandparents, coaches, guidance counsellors, or trusted friends.

These adults are "safe places," says Burkhalter, "An available, 
psychologically stable adult."

Sometimes, when the whole community gets together, drug addictions 
can be beaten, says Swainson of the police.

Eight years ago, in Baden., one person brought a supply of heroin to 
a house party and offered samples. The highly addictive drug turned a 
number of local teens into addicts.

But the community worked with police, Swainson among them. The 
suspect was watched and eventually arrested. And "the problem did 
quiet down," he said.

Like other experts, Swainson believes that the key to preventing drug 
abuse in teens is to talk to young people early about the dangers.

"Education is the key," he says.

No one wants to let their child go to a house party with friends, 
only to find out later in the evening that they've overdosed.

"It's everyone's worst nightmare," he says.

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Ray of Hope -

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: -

National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign (U.S.) -

National Anti-Drug Strategy (Canada) -


Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need To Matter More Than Peers, by 
Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate, M.D. Vintage Canada, 2003

Choices and Consequences: What to Do When a Teenager Uses 
Alcohol/Drugs, by Dick Schaefer, Hazelden Information and Education 
Services, 1987
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