why drugs and teens don’t mix
The headlines in recent months have been grim: a former Minnesota Wild player ingests a lethal mixture of alcohol and oxycodone. A 19-year-old inhales a synthetic hallucinogen at a party and dies. Every time I read about a young Minnesotan who accidentally overdoses on drugs, my heart goes out to the parents, and I ponder the mysteries of the adolescent brain.
As a parent of three kids under age 16, I’m well aware that the teenage brain is under construction, still forming important functions like impulse control and judgment. It seems to be a cruel trick of nature that just as young people are pulling away from their parents and testing their independence, their developing brains can work against their common sense.
For some youth, this leads to experimentation with alcohol and drugs. Depending on the drug, the dose and other chemicals involved, the consequences of even a one-time use can be devastating.
To learn more about the latest trends in teen drug use, I attended a presentation by Rick Moldenhauer, the treatment services consultant at the alcohol and drug abuse division of the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
Moldenhauer spoke in Faribault to a group of about 200 social workers, school employees, law enforcement officials. and other professionals who work with youth. The Rice County Chemical Health Coalition and the Fountain Centers of Albert Lea, which offers substance abuse treatment programs for adults and adolescents, sponsored his talk.
In 2010, Moldenhauer said, the average age of people receiving drug treatment at facilities throughout the state was 33. However, he noted, the majority of those seeking treatment specifically for abuse of medications were people of high school and college age, 24 and younger.
Although over-the-counter products and prescription medicines are legal, Moldenhauer said they become dangerous when people intentionally take a higher dose in a shorter time than what’s prescribed or recommended — like two-thirds of a bottle of cough suppressant all at once, instead of two tablespoons every four hours.
“The difference between a medication and a drug is the intent of the person using it,” he said. “In the same vein, the difference between a medication and poison is how much of it you took.”
Young users also run into trouble because they are mixing and matching chemicals without understanding the effects on the body.
“If you’re taking Prozac and take a huge handful of Benadryl, that can be life threatening.”
Moldenhauer said a popular fad last summer among some high school and college-age students was drinking topical lotion intended to soothe bee stings.
“That’s generally not a smart idea,” he said. “When you take something that’s designed to go into you in a particular route, and you ingest it through another route, you’re going to have problems with it.”
Law enforcement and health officials have a difficult time keeping up with all the new drugs. As they crack down on one, people figure out a new way to get high. Some people abuse substances that are legal but are not meant for human consumption, like catnip (which gives you a buzz if you smoke it) and Ivory Wave, a bath salt that has effects similar to ecstasy or cocaine when ingested. The use of technology has helped spread these fads much more quickly.
“Today, we have Facebook and Twitter,” Moldenhauer said. “As soon as someone has figured out something, everyone knows about it. It’s on YouTube.”
He noted that alcohol is not a new drug, but it’s being packaged in new ways to appeal to young people. As examples, he cited a 40-proof, “adult” chocolate milk, and a type of whipping cream sold online that contains alcohol.
“[Alcohol] will forever be the No. 1 drug in Minnesota,” he said.
treatment center data
According to Substance Abuse in Minnesota (sumn.org), alcohol is the No. 1 reason youth under 18 are admitted to treatment facilities in Minnesota. Marijuana is second, and the third reason has fluctuated from year to year. In 2005, methamphetamine was at a peak, accounting for 16 percent of admissions, nearly surpassing marijuana’s 18 percent. Four years later, the meth figure was down to 7 percent, and opioids had increased to 10 percent.
Jenine Koziolek, clinical supervisor for the Fountain Centers in Albert Lea, said common factors for youth who enter treatment are use of a gateway drug, like alcohol, marijuana, tobacco or inhalants; family and relationship problems; a history of familial chemical use; and poor coping skills or mental health concerns.
Joy Riggs is an award-winning columnist for Minnesota Parent.
Adolescent treatment programs
Minnesota Department of Health
Minnesota Student Survey
NIDA for Kids
The science behind drug abuse
Parents. The Anti-Drug.
Tools to raise drug-free kids
Substance Abuse Use in Minnesota