Brookville — “Do you Know What Your Kids Know?,” a discussion about addiction trends sponsored by Purdue Extension, Stayin’ Alive and the Franklin County Community School Corp., was Nov. 11 at Franklin County Middle School, Brookville.
Dee Kleier, Purdue Extension Franklin County health and human science educator, said when she eyes youth substance use, “what are the substances that I’m talking about?”
“Drugs,” suggested one boy.
Marijuana, heroin, meth, maybe cocaine and oxycodone were more answers provided by some of the 100 in the cafeteria.
“Alcohol,” reminded Kleier.
“Opioids,” shouted someone else.
The educator added, “Tobacco, nicotine, Juul.”
“What do these substances do to your body? These drugs are chemicals. One of the most important things that they affect is your brain” and a chemical there, dopamine. Drugs “flood your brain with dopamine and make you feel very good.”
The speaker asked, “How about a hit of Juul? Boom! I have a lot of dopamine. I come back down (she draws a plummeting line on a whiteboard). It works the same way with heroin, cocaine, alcohol.” The high “goes away pretty quickly, so you have to take some more ... your brain is overloaded.” To get the same pleasurable feeling, “I either have to use it more often or take more drugs or do different things to get high again.”
She warned, “The younger a person is when he first starts using, the more likely he is to become addicted, even on the first try.”
“Why is it so terrible for young people to use? There are some lasting health problems. How many people have heard about the new lung disease because of vaping?” Drugs also can cause high blood pressure and gum disease.
Sometimes children aren’t able to control their impulses and emotions and make poor decisions. Those brain milestones come later. Chemicals “change the way those milestones happen. Because your brain is developing, it’s much easier to become addicted and stay addicted.”
Youth who use illegal substances also are much more likely to do other risky things. “You start taking other drugs. Maybe you start with alcohol ... whatever everybody else is doing. It becomes easier to say, ‘Marijuana is not so bad.’ ... Kids even start doing things that are worse.”
The educator discussed prevention. “Logically, the older a person is when he first tries something, the harder it is to get addicted. Keep pushing it off. Kids, somebody tries to offer you something? Say, ‘Not this year.’ Parents, the biggest thing you can do is to not allow your underage child to use, to drink, to purchase a Juul, to purchase something for them ... Don’t be the person who helps your child use.
”Kids, if you’re really involved in activities ... it is really a big deal. The more involved you are in sports, clubs and 4-H ... and hanging out with kids not doing bad things ... you’re going to be friends with good people. You’re going to want good things for your friends and they’re going to want good things for you.”
”Parents, help them find something they want to do.”
Kleier also recommended, “Communicate as a family. Parents, don’t be afraid to ask your child about drugs or drinking or vaping ... they can be brief conversations” very often. “Kids, don’t forget to talk to your parents or an adult you can trust... bounce some ideas off of people.”
One of Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Christopher Huerkamp’s first cases when he was deputy prosecutor was “a bunch of kids on heroin over in Batesville burglarizing houses. I think one’s dead and three are still in prison. I was a little bit shocked. ... a friend of theirs overdosed on heroin on her 18th birthday ... it was really sad. ... she wanted to use it to fit in.”
Huerkamp, who was involved with football, 4-H, band and drama at his Cincinnati high school, told parents, “Urge your kids to be a part of something,” even push them to get a part-time job. “I think that’s hugely important, when you’re too busy to do drugs or mess around with that crowd. When you’re doing something productive, it’s going to be a lot harder to fall into that spiral.”
He lamented social media and “the way it can affect a child’s brain. That’s a lot to handle. Everybody knows what the lunch table can be like in junior high or high school. As parents, we have to be very careful what we allow ourselves to let our kids be exposed to.”
The prosecutor sees a lack of parental supervision and involvement as another problem. “This isn’t always something we can control” if a family needs two salaries to make ends meet. In some county neglect cases, “parents are using drugs in front of the kids .... it’s more prevalent than you think ... especially with marijuana,” which doesn’t have the stigma it used to even though the substance is more potent now.
With Indiana being a border state to others where medical or recreational marijuana is legal, “we don’t have Checkpoint Charlie at the border. Some of this stuff can make its way to our community a lot easier.”
Of vaping, he said, “I think why this has taken off among the youth, it doesn’t leave an odor ... it doesn’t look like a pack of cigarettes” and is easy to conceal. “You see a glamorization of this type of lifestyle by popular culture. Keep an eye on what your kids are watching on TV.”
Huerkamp reported, “There’s been a huge increase in tobacco substitutes at the schools. I have seen some THC cases with kids.” Families will pay a $130 fine if a child is found to be in possession of tobacco, a substitute or a vaping device.
The prosecutor urged, “Check their social media. They don’t have a right to privacy in your house, especially if you’re paying for it. Have consequences. If they’re looking at things they’re not supposed to, take the device away.”
Some schools offer free drug testing kits to parents. “Force them to take a drug test” and ask questions about their drug use.
Nikki King, Margaret Mary Health behavioral health and addiction services manager, observed, “I grew up in Kentucky during the rise of the opioid epidemic. I still remember the first overdose I ever saw.” When she was 9, King watched a mom OD at a child’s 13th birthday party. “No friends’ houses were safe. I remember most distinctly the spread. When it went from every family being kind of normal ... to less and less our families looked like families on TV.”
In college she became convinced rural communities are unique positioned to stop this. “The single biggest predictor if that person is going to be successful in treatment is whether or not their provider cares about them. We’re good at that.”
“The biggest question I get: ‘How do we stop our kids from doing drugs?’” What she’s learned after operating MMH’s addictions program for a little over a year: “I have never, ever seen anyone have an addiction problem without first having a mental health problem that was missed ... we feel like kids don’t have real problems, they can’t actually be sad,” but they can. “If things go real wrong in that hard (growing up) period, it can last.”
There’s been much talk by professionals about Adverse Childhood Events, “some level of trauma before the age of 12 – physical abuse, divorce, not having enough food, not having enough clean clothes, being bullied – that’s a huge one, and we see so much at schools ... You don’t get over it, not really. It comes out in other ways, later.”
The manager wondered, “Does your kid absolutely hate to go to school every single day? Maybe it’s nothing. He wants to stay home to play video games. Maybe it’s not.”
She advised parents, “We have to start reaching out when we’re struggling with our kids,” even if it’s uncomfortable to talk about it and parents feel they’ve failed to protect their children. When a kid seems to have a mental health issue, “you can choose how you respond and what comes next.”
She mused, “There are a lot of things kids can get in a whole lot of trouble with. If heroin is gone, it’s going to be alcohol or methamphetamine.... it will always be something else. You have to get at the root cause... meeting it head-on is so important to heading this off.”
King told the youth in attendance, “There is no weakness in saying you’re struggling. If it’s one bad day, reach out to people,” parents or a teacher, guidance counselor or pastor. “Give them a shot. They care more than you think.”
A woman asked what was she supposed to do to help a family member after reaching out to law enforcement and getting no advice.
Huerkamp admitted, “I know we don’t have a lot of resources in a small community,” such as facilities. “What we do have ... people caring about you. The court system doesn’t really love you or care about you. It’s not supposed to. It’s supposed to rehabilitate you or punish you. Unfortunately, for people who are in the throes of addiction, jail sometimes is the best place for them. It’s the only place you know they’re going to be alive.”
While parents instinctively want to bond their kids out of jail, if they are on drugs, they could relapse. “The only way to get someone over that hump is for them to dry completely out” and jail might be the place to do that.
If parents find drugs in a child’s room and call police, the son or daughter will probably leave in handcuffs. The prosecutor urged the youth there, “Before you light up that first joint or try that pill, think about the situation you’re putting your parents in.”
He recommended that parents with problems ask other parents “what they’ve tried and what’s worked.” If a child has overdosed, of course rescuers must be called. “The parent becomes a witness against their own child in a court proceeding. ... It might be very tough, but what you’re doing is probably saving your child’s life.”