COMMUNITY TASK FORCE LOOKS TO PREVENTION, targets teens and parents
Dr. Philip Bolduc, a family medicine physician and director of the addiction treatment program at Family Health Center in Worcester, said if we’re ever to stem the tide of opiate addiction, we have to start with prevention among teenagers.
“No one says, ‘I’d really like to be an addict someday,'” Dr. Bolduc told some 100 people at a town hall meeting organized by the Worcester Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force, held last Wednesday at North High School.
“There’s no factor we can use to predict who is going to fall prey to addiction,” Dr. Bolduc said. “It’s like playing with bombs. You never know when it’s going to explode in your face.”
Keynote speaker, Dr. Yasmin Mashhoon, an addiction neuroscientist at McLean Hospital in Belmont and instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said that 90 percent of adults with addiction started using drugs or alcohol before age 18.
The impact of drugs on the maturing brain, which doesn’t reach full development until around age 25, can have lasting effects on cognitive and behavioural processes too, making teen substance abuse particularly damaging.
Dr. Mashhoon studies the harmful impacts on the youthful brain of marijuana and alcohol, in particular, but said painkillers and other prescription drugs can be equally dangerous.
She said casual attitudes by parents toward prescription drugs, marijuana and alcohol are associated with higher levels of substance abuse among their teenage children.
“Twenty-one percent of parents think marijuana is totally harmless,” she said, adding that that belief was not true. Marijuana has more cancer-causing agents than cigarettes and affects the brain like alcohol.
Dr. Mashhoon noted: one out of six parents thinks using prescription drugs to get high is safer than using street drugs; one out of four teenagers reports misusing a prescription drug at least once in their life; one out of three teens thinks it’s OK to use drugs that are not prescribed to them to deal with injury, illness or pain; and 10 percent of 12th-graders surveyed used OxyContin or Vicodin.
She added that 60 percent of teenage prescription drug abusers are given the pills by a friend or relative.
On the flip side, teens whose parents clearly expressed disapproval of abusing drugs or alcohol showed the lowest rates of substance abuse.
“Parents are the single most important influence,” Dr. Mashhoon said. “So your teenagers are listening…. Even if it seems they are not listening, even if it seems they are not hearing you, it’s important to stay engaged; it’s important to set clear rules and expectations about substance abuse.”
Karyn E. Clark, chief of community health from the Worcester Division of Public Health, which sponsors the task force, said that the division is focusing on prevention because “the system (for treatment) is broken.”
“We’re targeting parents to get them to realize it’s an epidemic,” Ms. Clark said. “One of the solutions is as simple as looking in your medicine cabinet, what’s at home,” to remove harmful prescription drugs.
She said that the Central Massachusetts Regional Public Health Alliance brought in more than 550 pounds of unused, expired medications from seven drug take-back events held last week. “This stuff is in the house. We need to get it out of the house,” she said.
The division is planning a pain conference in June for health care practitioners, focusing on safe opioid prescribing.
Godwina Stavonson, a peer leader with the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center and the HOPE Coalition, a community partnership to promote adolescent mental health and risk reduction, shared a personal essay about how she turns to music, instead of drugs, when she wants to unwind.
Audience members agreed the problem of substance abuse prevention needed a multigenerational, multipronged approach.
“We need to talk as a community,” Ms. Clark said, inviting the public to join the Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force, which meets monthly at the YWCA in Worcester.
“What are the strategies out there?” she continued. “This is affecting every single one of our lives.
Source: www.telegram.com 4th May 2014