MILTON, Ga. – Parents came July 31 to a seminar on substance abuse and suicide in North Fulton’s schools hosted by Milton High School, and parents walked out knowing they could never say “it doesn’t happen here.”
Christopher Wood, prevention team leader for the Ga. Department of Behavioral Health, spoke to around160 parents about the realities of drug use and to how parents should always be alert to the signs.
“Parents and school officials’ lives get so busy sometimes they don’t recognize what is happening in front of them,” Wood said. “They need a wakeup call sometimes to see what is going on.”
And Wood is the alarm clock. He did have some surprising information. The first surprise is alcohol is the most abused drug in North Fulton high schools across the board.
Milton High School has the dubious distinction of having the highest rates of usage (the state surveys of students asks about use in the last 30 days) of alcohol, marijuana and other drugs and led in all three categories.
One in four Milton students surveyed said he or she had used alcohol within the last 30 days. Fifteen percent replied they had used marijuana and nearly 10 percent had used other drugs
“Some people object to having alcohol on the survey because it is sold legally. But if a juvenile has it, that person got it illegally,” Wood said. “More importantly, more teenagers die from alcohol use than all other drugs combined.”
For some 90 minutes Wood explained how young people today have more temptations thrown at them than ever before. Alcohol is the most dangerous because it has the most prevalent usage.
“When I was growing up you had two choices of alcohol, beer and liquor. Neither one tasted very good,” he said.
Today there are flavored alcoholic drinks sold in grocery stores and convenience stores that have a much higher alcohol content than a beer. Until the introduction of these flavored alcoholic drinks, girls usually started drinking much later than boys, but no longer.
Their use by young girls are so common, they are called “cheerleader drinks.” The liquor industry even sells alco-popsicles and alco-ice cream.
Raspberry, cherry, lime and even chocolate alcoholic drinks – sold in larger containers than simple beer – have evened the starting time for girls, he said.
“Some of these drinks are mixed with stimulants such as caffeine, which is a bad combination to give to a teenager,” he said.
The most abused illegal drug is marijuana. Statewide, 17 percent of students have used marijuana by the time they are 17. The average age of first use is 13.5 years.
“If you are starting your prevention program in middle school, you are too late,” Wood said.
And the pot that is smoked today has a potency that is 600 percent greater than that of the 1970s and ’80s. So the harmful effects of short-term memory loss, lethargy, impaired reaction time and slower reactions are intensified. It simply cripples education efforts at school when students need to be at their sharpest.
Young people most often get prescription drugs out of their parents’ medicine cabinets. When that avenue dries up they may go to street drugs. Heroin today is cheaper and easier to get than oxycontin.
Wood’s message to parents and school officials is to be aware of the pervasiveness of alcohol and drugs in suburbia. The price of peace of mind is vigilance.
“Sometimes our lives get so busy that we don’t have the time to recognize what is going on in our children’s lives, and how much things have changed since we were teens,” he said. “Parents must get more involved in their children’s lives. You need to get to know their friends and the parents of their friends.”
As parents, you need to set clear rules and consequences. Most of all parents should talk frankly and openly about not only the dangers of drugs and alcohol but give them the coping skills to say no to their peers.
“And that is not a one-time conversation. It needs to be an age-appropriate talk, and it needs to done over and over again,” Wood said. “It won’t be perfect, if we do our best, it will get through. Parents often say their kids don’t listen anymore.
“They may not act like it, but they are listening. And the more it is reinforced, the more effective it is.”
Peer pressure is working to get them to try things. If pressure from Mom and Dad is not pushing back, then it is much easier for peer pressure to tip the balance, Wood said.