by Morgan Smith
The best drug prevention tool is active, involved parents.
That was the lesson this week at a special meeting of drug prevention and treatment experts, as well as recovering drug addicts, focused on diminishing the spread of drug and alcohol usage in south Charlotte teens.
“Our purpose is to empower parents and to let them know that if they talk to their kids about alcohol and drugs, their kids are less likely to use,” said Jenny Wade, chair of the Connecting Families in Char-Meck committee of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Drug Free Coalition.
The group, in partnership with the YMCA, organized a town hall meeting at the Hemby Program Center Tuesday, March 6, where a panel of experts discussed different drug trends, such as a rise in black tar heroin in Charlotte. They also discussed services, personal experiences and prevention strategies, as well as answered parent concerns on what specific drugs are out there and warning signs that could show a teen is using.
According to the Youth Drug Survey administered in middle and high schools throughout Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in 2010, 95 percent of students said their parents did not want them to engage in alcohol and drugs. Pam McKenna, a prevention specialist at the Center for Prevention Services in Charlotte, said parents are the best resource for their children when it comes to preventing drugs and alcohol, but it’s important parents take the issue seriously and talk to their kids as early as possible.
“Average age of onset is 13, and gateway drugs, such as alcohol and marijuana are also on the increase,” McKenna said. “I think the perceived risk of marijuana is diminishing – it’s becoming the norm like alcohol already is in our culture.”
That was the case for a Waxhaw native and recovering addict who has been clean and sober for three years now. The woman spoke about her drug addiction and how her parents and teachers could have prevented some of it if they had intervened rather than ignored the signs.
“I smoked pot for the first time at 9 years old,” the woman explained. “It was about a feeling of acceptance from the older kids.” And after years of addiction, Walsh said the warning signs were there, but no one seemed to notice. “My weight would fluctuate, but everyone would attribute it to me being young and active with soccer and cheerleading. I didn’t sleep, and I couldn’t find my place at school in terms of friends. … But instead of bringing me in and talking to me, (my mom and teachers) said, ‘Oh, you need some space.’ It could have been handled differently.”
The woman, who now works with the Drug Enforcement Administration telling her story to teens across Charlotte, said she doesn’t blame her addiction on her family and loved ones, although with their intervention she could have sobered up sooner.
“With (former addicts) we actually go to schools and let them tell their story,” Rob Smith, DEA agent in Mecklenburg County, said. “The first school we did was Charlotte Catholic – at first when we came in, the kids were kind of laughing and joking, but when she told her story, they took note.”
Smith said the DEA takes a three-part approach to getting drugs off the streets, starting with finding the traffickers, the users and then educating area teens. By going into the schools, the DEA hopes to give students a realistic view of what actually happens with drug abuse.
Another person, a recovering addict now sober for more than a year, said he started drinking alcohol around 12 years old, which lead to a downward spiral of drug addiction. Some warning signs his family and friends could have picked up on were complete withdrawal from his family, large amount of cash withdrawals from his bank account, weight loss and erratic anger.
Percy Rivers, a treatment specialist at the McLeod Center, a group that provides adolescent treatment services, said he deals with these types of cases every day.
“I always stress you’ve got to be proactive and address those things early and not just write it off as rebellion,” he said.
But some south Charlotte moms who attended the meeting said they think some teens are targeted not necessarily because of a lack of parent support, but because of self-esteem issues.
“We always talked about it, we did things together; we were a close family. I really feel like in my children’s case it was a confidence thing and a peer-pressure issue,” a local Ardrey Kell High mom said about her kids experimenting with drugs and alcohol. “I’ve seen things, I’ve heard things. I know it’s there and it’s not going to go away.”