Would you buy home kits to test your high-schooler for alcohol or drug use? How about your middle-schooler?
As controversial as that might sound, it's easier than trying to help pull your child out of an intense drug addiction, some say.
With a rise in prescription drug and heroin use in Waukesha County and four recent fatal overdoses, youth need stronger tools to avoid drug use in the first place, experts say. Here are suggestions on how parents can provide some of those tools:
Be the fall guy
Youth can pass up offered drugs and defeat peer pressure by complaining that their parents do random home drug tests, said Claudia Roska, executive director of the Addiction Resource Council in Waukesha.
Children can be taught to give that excuse, even if parents don't actually test.
"It gives them an out," said Sandra Schultz of the Waukesha County Drug Free Communities, adding: "I wouldn't hesitate to drug-test my kids."
Roska said parents should start home drug and alcohol testing in middle school as a preventive measure. "You don't want to be doing this at the height of a teen's rebellion," she added.
The trick is to for parents to stress that testing doesn't mean they don't trust their children. Roska said: "They can say, 'We love you so much that we want to protect you. We know how drugs work, how drugs make people lie. We want to make sure that you don't get sick and to protect you. We are doing this because we love you.'"
Breathalyzers can be purchased at Walgreens for $45, Schultz said.
Home drug test kits also are available, Roska said. Schultz said her daughter was aware of some peers whose parents test for drugs.
Lock up prescriptions drugs
Prescription drugs and pain killers are the fastest-growing drugs abused, law enforcement officers and counselors say.
Once addicted, users will look in anyone's medicine cabinets for prescription bottles, whether it be their own house, their relatives, their friends or complete strangers, said Scott Stokes, director of prevention at the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin.
"They often will ask to use the bathroom so they can look in the medicine cabinets," he said. "Grandparents are great ones to look in."
Schultz said she has heard reports of drugs being stolen at open houses, with one person distracting a real estate agent while another rifles through a bathroom for drugs.
Once "free" sources of prescription drugs are exhausted, some move to heroin, which is more readily available and cheaper, Wood said.
Schultz said small cases with "med locks" can be purchased to protect needed prescriptions.
"Drugs are as dangerous as a gun," she said. "You wouldn't have a gun sitting out somewhere. Lock it up."
Get rid of unneeded medications
Unneeded or expired medications should be removed, however, it's not that easy to properly dispose of drugs.
Don't pour them down the sink or flush them in the toilet where they can contaminate the groundwater, Schultz said.
If a local police department doesn't accept medical drop-offs (and few do) and there isn't a community drug collection event, people can grind their drugs and put it in a plastic baggie to be hauled to lined landfills to avoid most seepage, she added.
The Waukesha County Drug Free Communities has held three collection days with numerous drop-off sites around the county, collecting a total of about 10,000 pounds of medicines. They hope to hold another collection in May.
Talk, talk and role model
Parents may think they are talking to a wall but youth do listen, and they watch how their parents behave. If they see their parents use drugs or alcohol to relieve pain or stress, they may mimic the behavior, experts say.
According to the Addiction Resource Council, the average age for youth to start using tobacco is 12, alcohol just before 13, and marijuana at 14.
Parents can use media reports about drugs as conversation starters, Schultz said.
"Say 'Geesh, have you heard of this? Do you know anybody's who's ever tried heroin?' Get the conversation started," Schultz said.
"Arm them with a bit more information. Say, 'Have you heard about this? They say it can cause brain damage.' It's those subtle mentions that might stick with them," Schultz said.
Fight the urge to lecture or "freak out" if children confide in their own or a friend's drug or alcohol use, she added. Don't demand that they never see that friend again, for example.
"If you freak out, they're not going to tell you anything anymore," Schultz said. "Take in as much information as you can, then take a deep breath and figure out the best plan of attack for the information given to you."
Be vigilant and streetwise
"Education is the key," said Capt. Chuck Wood, commander of the Waukesha County Metro Drug Unit, which has seen heroin seizures rise in recent years.
"Try not to think that this only happens to other people's kids," or that it's an inner-city problem, he said. He pointed to the death of Maddie Kiefer, a 15-year-old Whitefish Bay girl who struggled with drugs.
Stokes, prevention director with the AIDS Resource Center, said when the organization began its needle exchange program in the early 1990s, the typical person exchanging dirty syringes for clean ones to prevent the deadly spread of AIDS and Hepatitis C were long-time drug users in their 30s and 40s.
"To have someone under 20 years old was a pretty rare event," he said. "Now we're seeing a lot of 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds. And the racial demographics are changing. Now it's mostly all white kids (injecting drugs). And African Americans are smoking crack."
"It's pretty scary stuff," he said.
Wood and Roska said parents should educate themselves on street terms and paraphernalia and be on the lookout for warning signs, such as this list from the Drug Free Communities.
The Addiction Resource Council website lists these warning signs:
- Changes in sleeping, eating, or grooming habits;
- Hypersensitivity or temper tantrums;
- Unexplained weight loss or gain;
- Red or watery eyes;
- Shaking of the hands, feet, or legs;
- Frequent nausea or vomiting;
- Excessive sweating;
- A drop in grades at school or skipping school;
- Loss of interest in family activities previously enjoyed;
- An “I don’t care” attitude;
- Excessive need for privacy or secrecy; or
- An unexplained need for money or even stealing money
If a child is using drugs, the Addiction Resource Council is a clearinghouse of information and referrals for treatment and counseling. They are located at W228 N683 Westmound Drive in Waukesha, (262) 524-7921 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other local resources include the Waukesha County Health and Human Services Department and 211 First Call for Help hotline by dialing 211 or (262) 547-3388.