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Declaring War on Drugs, Talking to Our Kids More Important Than Ever

Teens dying from prescription drug overdose has jumped 91%, while marijuana use among 8th-12th graders is at a 30-year high. Parents this is war!

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has scheduled another National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on Saturday, April 28. In New Jersey, numerous police departments (including the Caldwells, Livingston, Cedar Grove, Montclair and more) will accept unwanted, unused prescriptions drugs from 10a.m. to 2 p.m. They then work with the DEA to safely dispose of these medications, reducing the risk of prescription diversion and abuse.

I can’t overstate the importance of that previous sentence since abuse of prescription drugs is escalating and it’s impacting our kids. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there has been a 91 percent increase in the number of teens 15-19 years of age dying from prescription drug overdose. No that’s not a typo. While motor vehicle crashes remain the number one killer of children and teens from birth up to the age of 19 nationwide, poisonings increased 80 percent among this age group with teens accounting for the largest uptick.

According to CDC research, appropriate prescribing, proper storage and disposal, discouraging medication sharing, and state-based prescription drug monitoring could reduce these deaths. So initiatives like the take-back program are important. But as the parent of a teen (one I’ve written about many times), it’s up to my husband and I talk about this issue with him regularly and to ensure that he understands the dangers of misusing prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Additionally, it’s our job to monitor his use of any medications that may be prescribed for him as well as properly dispose of those drugs and any others in the house (including OTC medications—be sure to regularly check expiration dates) once they’re no longer needed or viable.

As if that wasn’t enough to worry about (and believe me I do), according to the 2011 Monitoring the Future Study conducted by the University of Michigan and National Institute on Drugs marijuana use is on the rise among teens and is currently at its highest level among eighth to 12th graders in 30 years. Add to that the findings of a February 2012 Liberty Mutual/SADD (Students Against  Destructive Decisions) survey in which one in five (19 percent) teen drivers reported that they’ve driven under the influence of marijuana, and quite frankly I want to run out of the house screaming.

This is scary stuff. While teens are getting the message about the dangers of drinking and driving (the Liberty Mutual/SADD survey found that 13 percent of teens surveyed report that they have driven after drinking, a number that is on the decline), many teens don’t consider marijuana use a distraction to their driving. In fact, more than one-third (36 percent) of teens who have driven after using marijuana say the drug presents no distraction when they’re behind the wheel.

Ensuring that teens understand that marijuana and other drugs affect memory, judgment and perception and can lead to poor decision making is critical. And while there is a belief among teens (my source—teens), that smoking pot and/or using drugs, unlike alcohol, is more difficult to detect if they’re stopped by a police officer, they must understand the dangers associated with using drugs and driving are real.

Driving under the influence of marijuana nearly doubles the risk of a serious or fatal car crash, determined researchers at Canada’s Dalhousie University. They found a 92 percent increased risk of a driver being involved in a collision resulting in a serious injury or death to themselves or others, if they used marijuana within two to three hours of getting behind the wheel. Marijuana impairs the psychomotor skills needed for safe driving and affects perception and spatial awareness. To quote one of the researchers, “There’s actually a psychological process where people often believe that they’re driving safer than they really are and they don’t recognize that they’re following too closely or making...lane violations.”

The risk, according to the researchers, appears to be greatest in less-experienced marijuana users, younger drivers and among those who combine the use of marijuana and alcohol. So add this to the already long list of issues we need to be talking about with our kids. But that is our job to talk to them and keep talking about those things that can not only trip them up, but seriously injure and kill them.

The good news is that teens do listen to their parents (honestly our harping does work, say researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) and they also listen to their friends. Positive peer pressure is a powerful anti-drug and the good news is that most teen drivers say they would stop driving under the influence of marijuana (90 percent) or alcohol (94 percent) if asked by their passengers (Liberty Mutual/SADD survey). While a teen passenger is more likely to speak up when his friend is driving after drinking then driving after smoking marijuana (87 percent versus 72 percent), their influence is critical. The key is making sure that we talk to our teens again and again about the powerful role they play in helping themselves and their friends make the right choices when it comes to their safety.

Let me end with my weekly plug for the second annual statewide Teen Safe Driving Summit, GDL4U: Good Driving for Life, which will include a teen workshop on how drugs and alcohol impact their ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.  The May 12th event in Freehold will provide teens 14-16 years of age and their parents the opportunity to get the facts about New Jersey’s Graduated Driver License (GDL) program before the former enter the licensing system. Teens will also learn about the importance of seat belt use and the dangers prompted by passengers and driving at night.

Parents, meanwhile, will have their own workshop track focusing on the GDL program, driver coaching, insurance, and vehicle selection. All Summit  participants will also have the opportunity to test their abilities on the hands-on distracted driving course. The cost is $15 per teen and one parent; $25 per family. Registration closes May 4. My son and I hope to see you there!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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