Approximately 40 adults from the communities of Clinton, Madison, Haddam-Killingworth and Guilford left the Morgan School on January 17 with their eyes opened wide to the newest trends in teen substance use.

Catherine Barden, MADE’s (Madison’s substance abuse prevention coalition) coordinator, presented information on synthetic drugs, synthetic marijuana, alcohol packaging that is designed to attract youth, and prescription drug use.

The drugs that are being used by youth today are far different from the drugs used by yesterday’s teens.  It is naïve and dangerous for adults to think “well, what’s the big deal?  I smoked and drank in high school”.  Trends and substances are far more life threatening than they were even just one decade ago.  Chemical concoctions that create “bath salts”, synthetic marijuana (K2, Spice, Cloud 9, Home Spice) and others, cause severe hallucinations and psychosis in users, and can be bought in convenience stores and malls.  Some young users have even committed suicide while on these chemicals due to the extreme and irrational fears the drugs created.

Marijuana, while decriminalized in CT (adult offenders caught with less than 1/2 ounce now pay a $150 fine instead of being charged with a misdemeanor), is not safe.  Youth report a sharp rise in marijuana use because, in their words, “it’s legal”.  It is important for adults to be knowledgeable about the new laws and talk with children about the dangers of using this substance.  Those under 21 caught with pot still face harsh consequences – including a 60-day license suspension – along with the health dangers of marijuana use. Is in in fact addicting, and causes notable brain damage over time.  Even more frightening is the use of synthetic marijuana, which is made up of herbs and berries that are sprayed with a chemical that mimics THC.  Most times this chemical is stronger than THC and may cause symptoms that are life-threatening.

“Way back when”, beer was the drink of choice for teens.  Currently, there are far more products that attract teens because they are brightly colored, taste sweet, and are low in cost.  What teens and adults may not be realizing is the higher alcohol content in these drinks (called alcopops because of their sweet taste), resulting in alcohol poisoning and sometimes death due to high quantity of consumption.  Presentation attendees watched in horror as a video depicted a teen boy chugging a vodka-berry drink through a funnel and promptly passed out, never to wake again, killed by alcohol poisoning.

Across the US, the abuse of prescription drugs is fast becoming an epidemic.  Teens are in on the use as well, obtaining pills from family and friends’ bathrooms and dresser drawers.  Pills are more accessible than ever, and parents need to be hyper vigilant with their prescriptions and lock up everything, even cough syrup.  A couple of brave parents shared their young person’s battle with drugs during the presentation, stating that their addiction began with simple household products, such as nutmeg and Sudafed.

The presentation concluded with an emotional conversation about the adult vigilance needed to keep children safe and away from substances.  Parents shared how their children had replaced alcohol in their homes with water, and had consumed the contents of entire bottles without the parents’ knowledge.  Clinton’s school resource officer, Allyson Tanner, stressed the importance of being on top of children’s whereabouts and activities at all times. A health teacher and father confessed to ruining many party plans for his son by calling the parents of the hosts, only to find they were actually going to be out of town.  In summary, the group concluded that best way to prevent substance abuse by teens is to work hard on the relationship with your child, to have strong communication, to be aware of trends and behaviors, and to lock up alcohol and prescription meds in your home.  Also, making sure your child and the adults they spend time with are clear about your expectations is essential. Getting to know your child’s teachers, friends’ parents, coaches and other influencers will also help you have the opportunity to develop a network of support.

The complete Emerging Drug Trends presentation is available below, courtesy of M.A.D.E in Madison & Catherine Barden.

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