Sun, 10 Sep 2006
Detroit Free Press (MI)
2006 Detroit Free Press
September 10, 2006
Detroit Free Press (MI)
Shabina S. Khatri, Free Press Staff Writer
HOMEMADE HIGHS A CLICK AWAY
Four years ago, curiosity about marijuana brought an Idaho teenager
named Nick to a popular online drug encyclopedia.
Now 18 and in a rehabilitation program in Southfield, Nick said he
became obsessed with the Web site's offerings -- particularly the
vaults filled with information about hundreds of mind-altering
chemicals, herbs and plants. The site, which the journal Pediatrics
reported receives 250,000 clicks daily, also has thousands of posts
from users, mostly twentysomethings, about their substance experiences.
"I was so fascinated," said Nick, whose last name is not being
published because the drug charges he faced were juvenile charges. He
added that the information emboldened him to experiment with many
substances. "The fear, the taboo of using ecstasy and crack -- you
really start to doubt that fear when someone tells you there's a
healthier way. I would never have done a lot of the drugs I did if it
wasn't for that Web site."
An increasing number of teen users are turning to the Web to feed or
develop their habits, say counselors, drug abuse prevention experts
and those in law enforcement. There has been little research into how
the Internet enables teens to find new -- and cheap -- ways to get
high, but all 12 of the adolescents in rehabilitation programs
questioned for a study published last year said information they
found online guided how they experimented with drugs.
Experts say it's another danger of unmonitored and unfettered access
to the Internet for teens, with the same simple solution -- parents
keeping a closer eye on what their kids do online.
No Prescriptions Needed
Over the past decade, the number of Web sites glorifying drug usage,
providing step-by-step recipes for homemade highs and pushing
products through questionable online storefronts has increased
exponentially. And tech-savvy teens, undetected by their
less-informed parents, are flocking to these sites, using them to
score drugs, swap stories and further their habits.
One study found only 6% of Web sites selling prescription drugs
require prescriptions, making "these drugs as easy to buy over the
Internet as candy," said Bo Deitl, chairman of Beau Dietl and
Associates, which did the analysis with the National Center on
Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
It's not just access to drugs that's troublesome -- misinformation
also plays a role.
"To me, that's the bigger danger," said Brian Spitsbergen, director
of youth assistance for Growth Works, a Plymouth-based agency that
helps those with chemical dependency.
"You can find Web pages that tell you how to make ... name it,
recipes for methamphetimine to hallucinogens to anything else. It's
all over the place. But the recipes may be poison. You find a recipe
for meth ... that may be instant death."
Under Parents' Noses
To address the problem, the Office of National Drug Control Policy
published an open letter to parents last month with tips on
monitoring teens' digital activities.
"Technology has created an environment for kids where they can really
stay under the surface -- right under adults' noses," Spitsbergen said.
Now, he added, finding drug dealers can be as easy as logging onto
MySpace.com -- and obtaining the drugs as simple as sending a text message.
"Anytime you want drugs, it's a call or a click away," said Nick, who
used to go through 3,600 minutes monthly on his cell phone.
Though keeping up with technology may seem daunting, experts advocate
simple strategies for parents to stay abreast of teens' activities.
Among them: checking cell phone records, Internet chat buddy lists
and Web page view histories.
"The job of parents is to know where their kids are whether it's in
the real world or the virtual world," said Jennifer DeVallance, a
representative from the Office of National Drug Control Policy .
"It's a matter of safety."
Kids Want Parents to Listen
These tactics may help parents learn whether their kids are using
drugs, but the best way to prevent them from using in the first place
is to have honest discussion, said Ken Krygel, a former police
officer who specializes in tracking drug trends in metro Detroit.
"Parents think they communicate with their kids by talking to them,"
Krygel said. "But kids tell me, 'I'd like my mom or dad to stop for a
minute and listen to what I have to say.' No matter how wrong it is,
let them say their piece."
That kind of communication, said Jay, 18, of Brighton, might have
given him the courage to refuse drugs offered him in junior high.
"For me, it was curiosity and wanting acceptance from others," said
Jay, who has been drug-free for almost a year. The Free Press is not
publishing his name because, like Nick, he faced juvenile drug
charges. "I always said, 'I'll never use drugs.' But I tried it once,
and the high was so great, it turned into a daily thing for me."
Jay's mother, Eunice, said she sensed something was wrong, but never
imagined the problem was drug abuse.
Her son always denied using anything more than marijuana. Eunice said
she also was thrown off by the fact that Jay kept his grades up and
held down a part-time job.
"We all have perceptions about people who do drugs," she said. "My
perception is that they wouldn't be able to function."
Take Marijuana Use Seriously
Jay said he used text messaging to sell the DXM -- a hallucinogen
found in cough medicines -- he obtained from Web sites to his peers.
In retrospect, Jay's mother said she should have listened more and
lectured less when she and her son talked about drug use. She also
advises parents to take all substance use -- including marijuana and
alcohol -- seriously.
"I know a lot of adults say they smoked marijuana as teens and
stopped at that, but in this day and age, a lot of kids don't stop at
marijuana," she said. "They go further than that. If you think
there's something wrong with your child, usually there is."
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