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GetSmart About Drugs - A DEA Resource for Parents

News Release
June 13, 2003

"A Health Threat Parents Can Address" by C. Todd Vedder, M.D., FAAP

JUN 13--The parents I see in my office certainly understand the value of preventative care. Want to fend off hepatitis B? Bring the child in for an immunization. Want to keep small fingers out of electrical outlets and hands out of cleaning supplies? Childproofing works wonders. Unsure of what that low-grade fever, curious rash or lengthy bout with the hiccups is all about? Give me a call.

So why does it seem parents are so reluctant to engage in the kind of preventative action that can keep their kids off drugs?

Drug use-even trying drugs-poses serious health consequences. Research shows that kids who learn a lot about the risks of drugs at home are up to half as likely to use drugs. Too many parents-nationally, and here in the St. Louis area-are unwilling to recognize the seriousness of the drug problem as it relates to their own families, and their children, and therefore, don't take the type of preventative action that can keep their kids safe from drugs.

New data from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America show that St. Louis area parents largely recognize that methamphetamine and ecstasy are problem drugs nationwide, but they're less likely to think the drugs are present in their own kids' schools or in their neighborhood. And when it comes to their own kids' being exposed to these drugs, the research finds this: just one out of 100 parents in the St. Louis area thinks it's possible their kid has tried ecstasy or methamphetamine.

That's the perception; here's the reality: roughly half of the teens in our communities know teens who are using these drugs; nearly one out of every five teens in the St. Louis area has been offered methamphetamine; and close to one in three has been offered ecstasy. The study shows nearly one in 10 St. Louis area teens has tried ecstasy, and while methamphetamine use is, for the moment, somewhat lower, the Drug Enforcement Administration considers St. Louis to be an emerging methamphetamine market.

To borrow a familiar phrase: St. Louis, we have a problem, and all the making of a serious threat to the health and well-being of our children.

Today, perhaps on the block where you live, kids are facing choices about whether to use
Drugs like ecstasy and methamphetamine, and they're doing so without knowledge of the risks these drugs pose to their bodies. The health risks are real, and potentially devastating, even for those who experiment.

Methamphetamine is an addictive stimulant - much like cocaine. Users can quickly develop a tolerance to the drug; to replicate that first high, they need increasingly larger doses of the drug. Long-term use can lead to full-blown toxic psychosis, often coupled with extreme paranoia. There's also the possibility of brain damage similar to that seen in stroke victims or those with Alzheimer's disease. The saying "speed kills" still applies.

As for ecstasy, it's part speed, part hallucinogen. The long-term effects of this drug remain largely unknown, but consider the data: Emergency room episodes involving ecstasy climbed from 2,850 in 1999 to 5,542 in 2001. While deaths are rare, they can occur as a result of taking as few as one or two pills. Ecstasy causes dramatic spikes in body temperature that can lead to organ damage, yet 55 percent of parents in the St. Louis area don't recognize this as a great risk posed by ecstasy. A growing body of research suggests ecstasy is neurotoxic, but the reputation of the "love drug" has established itself ahead of the risks.

Pediatricians don't have an immunization we can give our patients to keep them drug-free; fighting this health problem requires engagement by parents. That's why a group of pediatricians in St. Louis are taking part in a new health education campaign focusing on ecstasy and methamphetamine, one that needs the help of parents to ultimately succeed.

Parents and other caregivers can find more information about the risks and dangers of ecstasy and methamphetamine, and tips on how to talk with their kids about these and other drugs - by visiting the Partnership's wed site at www.drugfreeamerica.org. Once they've got the fact, parents need to turn their awareness into action. Talking with your kids about drugs may be the best preventative medicine there is. Again, research by the Partnership shows kids who learn a lot about the risks and dangers of drugs at home are up to half as likely as their peers to use. And if you think your child might have a problem - get help. Call the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (NCADA) helpline in St. Louis at 314-962-3456 for a free and confidential alcohol/drug assessment.

Parents, here's a prescription for controlling the health threat ecstasy and methamphetamine pose to your kids - give yourself a dose of heightened awareness, and give your teens a preparation of love, concern and action. Repeat as necessary; refill repeatedly. Your children's health is at stake.

--C. Todd Vedder, MD, FAAP, is a practicing pediatrician in Fenton, Missouri and a member of the board of directors of the Missouri Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics.

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