It sounds so dramatic—opioid crisis. The reality is that deaths due to drugs being laced with extremely dangerous substances are on the rise. The biggest culprit is fentanyl, a drug you can’t see or smell, and that, even just trace amounts, can cause death.
Teens dabbling with drugs is nothing new. So many kids are curious and think that nothing bad will happen to them. The reality, though, is that experimentation can have severe, even dire consequences. The number of street drugs being laced with fentanyl is on the rise. So too is the death rate associated with fentanyl overdoses.
You might think you know your child, but the reality is that they could be experimenting right under your nose. We can all bury our heads in the sand and think ‘not my child,’ and ignore red flags, or we can be hyper vigilant and remember that, no matter how responsible we think our teens are, they are teens, and teens , quite frankly, do risky things.
Do you think you’d know for sure if your child was dabbling with drugs? Do you know what to look for and what signs might indicate that there could be a problem?
As if taking drugs wasn’t already a particular risk for young brains, the recent spate of fentanyl-laced drugs has increased the danger substantially. Fentanyl is tasteless, odorless, invisible to the naked eye, and can be deadly even the first time. Even a small dose of fentanyl can kill. It’s no joke. It is in our interest, and in the interest of our kids, to realize that no child is immune from the risk. We need to educate ourselves and them to make sure our families aren’t victimized by this epidemic.
Some of the risk factors your child might have might seem obvious to you. Like if there has been a history of people with a substance use disorder in the family, if your child has impulsive personality traits, anti-social behaviour or low self-esteem. But, there are other risk factors you might not have considered. You might not know if your child is being bullied at school, and that is a risk factor too. So is the availability of drugs in the school, which your child probably wouldn’t be advertising to you.
The craziest part? Their dealer might be you. You read that right. Up to three-quarters of students who use an opioid pain reliever non-medically report obtaining it from the medicine cabinet at home. True, the drugs we get from our pharmacies are not contaminated with illegal fentanyl, but they can still be dangerous when they are not prescribed to the person using them. It also won’t remove the risk of them trying to buy that drug on the street to avoid the risk of getting busted at home.
How do you know though, if your child is using drugs? Teens are known to be moody and withdrawn. How can you tell when it’s more than just typical teen behavior? Much like we don’t need to be overly concerned about a baby’s place on the growth curve in their first year of life, as long as they stay on a consistent curve, it’s changes in behavior that are red flags.
If your teen shows a sudden change in behaviour, a change in appearance, or a change in attitude to you or other family members, it might be worth investigating and having conversations about what is going on. Be conscious if your child becomes more secretive, has new friends or stops bringing friends home, if their grades drop, or if money goes missing from your wallet. Any of those changes in behaviour could indicate a problem. It might just be teens being teens. But it could also be more. Don’t just assume it’s typical behaviour. It might not be.
Ideally, you’ve had talks with your teen already about risk mitigation and peer pressure and good choices. If you haven’t, there is no better time than right now to start that conversation. Be honest, be open, and be okay with hearing them say they’ve tried drugs. You want them to be honest with you. You want them to feel confident and comfortable to share with you, so try not to overreact, as hard as that might be. Try to understand that being a teen is hard, saying no is hard, and having the strength to make good choices when faced with a group of people making bad choices is something many teens aren’t strong enough to do. So, try to focus on positive coping strategies rather than scare tactics and disappointment.
Most importantly, if your teen does need help with problematic substance use, reach out to one of the many resources that are out there to support us and our kids. You may feel most comfortable discussing the situation with your family physician or a public health nurse. Most communities have parent support groups or professional counsellors at family service associations.
Parents may not want to think about it, but experimentation with drugs and alcohol is part of growing up for many kids. Most don’t get addicted and the majority have no issues. That doesn’t mean that it’s not a conversation we should have with our kids and not something we should keep a keen eye out for. Ignoring the fact they might try drugs won’t keep them safe, and it won’t keep them from experimenting. Being open and honest with them, and with ourselves, is the best defense we have.
This post is brought to you by Health Canada but the opinions are our own.