PLYMOUTH – The battle to keep children safe from drugs and alcohol has changed, and Tina George from the Caron Counseling Services in Wernersville was at Wyoming Valley West High School on Tuesday night to give parents the most accurate information on the dangers.
An eye-opening fact, George said, is that most children might start using drugs at 8 or 9 years old, and become regular users by 12. The statement created an audible gasp from the roughly 80 people in the auditorium.
George, accompanied by Carmen Ambrosino, CEO of the Wyoming Valley Alcohol and Drug Services, Wilkes-Barre, and Jason Harlen, treatment supervisor at Wyoming Valley Alcohol and Drug Services, hosted the informational night.
George said it is a lot different today than it was in 2003. Underage binge drinking has declined and cigarette use has decreased for young people 12 to 17 years old, she said. From 2003 to 2011, even cocaine use has dropped from 2.3 million to 1.6 million users nationwide.
But the bad news is that the downward trend of marijuana and ecstasy use has been reversed. “Ecstasy use had almost doubled in 2011,” George said. “Have you heard of Mollies? It is another name for it.”
Over-the-counter drugs and prescription drugs are frequently abused by students in all 12 grades, and caffeine has widely become accessible. Thirty-one percent of 12-to-17-year-olds use them for the jolt-and-crash experience.
Often the drugs have a candy-like appearance, so it is very important to start discussing drugs and the importance of not sharing candy with other kids at a young age, George said. Conversations should grow with the child, she said.
“It is not a one-time discussion,” George said. “Talk with them about drugs frequently.”
Some of the best times to talk to kids are at dinner, in the car or before they go to bed, she said. Try not to approach them when they are tired, cranky or in a crowded area. “You are the most influential person on your child’s life,” George said.
Understanding the reasons behind the drug use could aid parents in preventing the debilitating cycle from starting. George said it can start from wanting to reduce stress, to be accepted, to lessen uncomfortable feelings and the belief that “everyone’s doing it.”
“Everyone is not doing it,” George said. “There are many that chose not to use drugs; that main deterrent is their parents.”
About 60 percent of high school students know which students will sell them drugs. Also, 54 percent of private-school students say their school is drug infected, she said. “I had to put that in,” George said. “I hear all too frequently parents saying they will put their child in a private school to get them away from drugs.”
Ambrosino and Harlen have seen area children and their families struggling with addiction.
“You need to find out what the root causes are behind the addiction,” Ambrosino said.
The struggle for control over the addiction is a long road. It often takes several treatments before the teens have it in check. Harlen said lots of parents want to be friends with their kids, but first they need to be parents.
“They are not bad kids, they just made a bad choice,” George said.