What will it take to convince young people that they are not invincible? What must we do to cause young people to think before they act and to think about the range of consequences for their actions? Every day we read about a human tragedy caused by recklessness and irresponsibility. Too many good kids, acting on impulse, are destroying their lives and the lives of others.
A growing number of parents need to revisit some of their parenting attitudes. Drug and alcohol use are on the rise. Whether we want to believe it or not, experimentation is beginning in our middle schools. Contrary to what some would like to think, this social behavior is not a phase that most kids go through unscathed. A growing number of our young people are getting stuck and buried in the disease of addiction.
Our children are approaching adolescence ill-equipped to navigate the complicated landscape of growing up in a world that is increasingly narcissistic and self-serving. By early elementary school, children have been bombarded with images and circumstances that many mature adults do not know how to cope with.
In so many quarters of our society, the wild life grounded in illegal drug and alcohol use is glorified and celebrated as a noble American pastime. Our teenagers have unbelievable access to money and a wide range of dangerous social opportunities. In our effort to trust our children, we have failed to hold them accountable and responsible for the social choices they make.
Unfortunately, on our social horizon there is a new danger emerging that is everywhere and is infecting a growing number of unsuspecting young people. The use of prescribed and over the counter medication is reaching epidemic proportions among our junior and senior high school students as well as our college age students.
We live in a society where there is a pill for every ache and pain. Most household medicine cabinets have a variety of prescriptions for various ailments as well as a wide range of over the counter medications. Most families leave their medicines in the family medicine cabinet. For the most part, parents don't even think about their children or other family members abusing those medicines.
Today, abusing prescription medications and over the counter drugs is a new social rage among our teenagers. Many of the young people experimenting in this arena have little or no knowledge of pharmacology and are totally nave to the potential consequences of their reckless decision-making.
Besides the foolish use of prescription medications for social purposes, a growing number of teenagers are making drug cocktails - that is they are taking various prescription and over the counter medications and mixing them together to create an intense high. Combining various prescription and over the counter medications is potentially lethal. In addition to that reckless behavior, many older youth are mixing prescription drugs with alcohol.
This new social phenomena is not happening just among our fringe teenagers, but is happening in every teenage setting. There is an air of invincibility that seems to empower many of our young people to believe that they are immune from serious harm or even death.
The other troubling attitude, when one talks to teenagers about this, is that more and more mainstream young people see nothing wrong with social experimentation and recreational drug use, even if it is clearly against the law and potentially harmful to one's health. When confronted about this behavior, the common response is "if I am a good student, get good grades, abide by my curfew and do what my parent's ask, what's the big deal?"
What makes this new phenomenon even more complicated is the accessibility of prescribed medication and over the counter drugs. Unlike pot and other street drugs, prescription medications can be discreetly shared and/or sold at school or on the ball field - almost anywhere, without notice or concern.
If one could have an honest conversation with some of our local high school students (as I have), one would be shocked at what our kids say about many of our local schools. Some of our high school campuses are referred to by our students as the local pharmacy, due to the wide range of and easy accessibility to all kinds of prescription and over the counter drugs.
As parents, we have to be more attentive to what our children may be doing socially. We need to be more conscious of the medicines that are accessible in our homes. No one wants to feel like they are being held hostage in their homes. However, this issue is very serious and should not be minimized or kicked to the curb because we don't want to believe our children would act so foolishly.
JR is seventeen years old. He is an athlete with a promising athletic career. He is an above average student from an intact family. In school, JR is well liked by students and faculty. His football coach says JR is probably one of the most coach-able athletes he's ever had.
In the middle of the season, JR was injured. After the game, he went to a local hospital emergency room because he had terrible pain and swelling in his knee. After examining JR, the doctor explained the protocol for caring for his injury and gave JR a renewable prescription for pain.
Over the next number of weeks, JR followed the doctor's directives and used his pain medication to cope with his physical discomfort. Unbeknownst to his parents and his coach, JR started to abuse his pain medicine. He liked how it made him feel, so he began taking it more frequently. Not giving it a thought, his parents renewed the prescription two more times. After those two refills, the prescription could not be refilled unless he saw the doctor. JR was very smart. He knew he could not legally renew that prescription, so he found out where he could buy the pills on his own. That is where the trouble began. He started abusing the painkillers on a daily basis. On the weekends, he was a social drinker who socialized just under the wire. He was never caught by his parents. He was now mixing the painkillers with beer.
Some of his friends knew what he was doing. They tried to intervene, but their concerns fell on deaf ears. Unfortunately, they then chose to remain silent.
On a cold Saturday night, JR was hanging out with his friends as he often did, drinking a few beers. All of a sudden, he fell to the ground and went into a seizure. His friends panicked, but one among them was smart enough and calm enough to call 911. Within minutes, an ambulance was there and rushed JR to the nearest hospital.
One of JR's friends, who was at the party, called JR's parents and met them at the hospital. Needless to say, his parents were overwhelmed. JR had no history of seizures or any other medical conditions. Hours after being admitted, the doctors shared what they believed was the cause of the seizure that almost took JR's life. After an extensive toxicology exam, the doctors indicated that JR's system had an abundance of narcotic medication.
After receiving that news, JR's parents were beside themselves. They reached out to his friends to see what they knew. Initially, no one came forward. Finally, after some pressure, one of JR's closest friends shared the painful secret that JR had been abusing pain medication for a number of months. Most recently, he was mixing it with alcohol. Although grateful for those revelations, JR's parents were devastated.
They could not believe that they did not see any signs and that none of his friends had come forward before now to let them know that their son was out of control.
JR did fully recover. He is one of the lucky ones. Unfortunately, a growing number of teenagers are not recovering. As parents and as a community, we need to be more vigilant!