First, appreciate the cultural context. Substance abuse is glamorized, joked about, denied. We live in a culture where taking pills is the norm. Most terrifying to me is that our country's policies have allowed legal drugs to become a gateway for illegal drugs.The US is only about 4% of the world's population, but consumes 80% of its synthetic opiates and 99% of its hydrocodone — the active ingredient in Vicodin. (We found a Vicodin in Amy's purse during junior year of high school but didn't realize what a red flag that was. I was clueless about the pathway from prescription painkillers to heroin.) I also believe that substance abuse is a serious factor in the nation's ability compete economically, as well as devastating millions of families.
Second, risky substances are a moving target, stay on top of the trends. For example, a Percoset 30, which is 30 mg of pure oxycodone, has been a recent drug of choice for teens in our area. The pills are so small that four of them can fit across the diameter of a quarter. Unlike alcohol and marijuana, which take up space and have telltale smells, pills are easy to hide. Also, addictive substances are available over the internet and, like illegal drugs, have no quality control. Friends of mine have a child who became addicted to methedrone — NOT methadone — a synthetic drug. “Many emergency room physicians are not familiar with symptoms caused by synthetic marijuana such as “K2” and “Spice,” which are sending a growing number of teenagers to the hospital” and don't always show up on drug tests.
Third, understand the high tech. Even when Amy was in high school, I felt like the internet and her cell phone had eroded the walls of my house. I'm in contact with a small company called txtwatcher, which acknowledges that “As a parenting tool there is no substitute for talking to your kids about the realities of using technology responsibly …” They realize “that kids do not go from zero to doing hard drugs overnight…Instead, they make a series of choices and take steps that lead to life altering, or even life ending behavior.” They believe “The ability to help your kids make the right choices early on is critical, and monitoring your kids’ text messaging is key.” Whether or not you believe in that, at least we have tools available that I wish we had when Amy was in high school.
Fourth, use the low tech. Lock up your prescriptions, and safely dispose of any unused medications. Cops in a neighboring town tell me that housebreaks are increasingly NOT for the electronics or the cash, but for what's in the medicine cabinet. Even better, discuss pain management with your healthcare providers BEFORE they prescribe. If your doctor said that they were prescribing expensive, synthetic heroin, instead of Percoset or Vicodin, would you challenge the prescription? Maybe if it were for your 80 year old mother dying of terminal cancer, no. But for your 15 year old son after an athletic injury, or your 18 year old daughter after having her wisdom teeth removed?
Fifth, don't let this subject be taboo in your family. Talk with younger kids — BEFORE middle school. Have caring conversations with relatives and friends — I like to say that it takes a village to enable a child. But even if you're talking, know that you may not be hearing the whole story — it shocks me how I couldn't tell when Amy wasn't being truthful, and now I know that lying IS part of the disease of addiction. Know that anxiety, depression, bullying, trauma, and low self-esteem can lead people of all ages to self-medicate with dangerous substances, so it's important to take these conditions seriously and have them effectively treated.
Sixth, Keep fighting for your kids. As the twelve-step program Nar-anon reminds us, “addiction is a physical, mental, and spiritual disease that affects every area of life. It can be arrested, but never cured.” Ask your pediatrician whether they routinely screen kids to catch problems before they become life-threatening, and what specialized training they have in this area. And given the spiritual nature of the disease, you may want to seek help from someone in your faith tradition.
Finally, trust your gut and find help and support. Addiction is a family disease. Check out the organizations in your area who provide family support. Twelve-step groups like al-anon and nar-anon can also make a huge difference. In addition to learning more about the disease and hearing how others cope and hope, it has been amazing for me to be surrounded by people who “get it” and realize that I am not alone.
We really miss Amy. I feel cheated because I was counting on having her around into my old age. Research says that if a kid can make it to 21 without abusing alcohol or drugs, chances are they never will. Amy didn't quite make it to 21. But perhaps with better education for you, your children, and their healthcare providers, they will. So please share her story. We cannot lose any more.
Melissa bravely shares her daughter's story on her Website. Please find more information on her book and Presentation Dates Here: http://www.amelibro.com/heroinspuppet/
(c) 2012 Melissa Weiksnar (Used with Permission)