Beware the drugs of summer


It's summertime and the livin' is easy, at least that's what the song says. And it's true that is what we love about summer: the easy living. Less structure. Fewer responsibilities. More freedom. But, for kids, freedom can be dangerous, which means there are more things for us as parents to worry about.

Let's face it, kids at any age give us so many worries. And just because it seems like summer is time for ease, it's also time for our worries to heat up. When they are tiny, we worry about too much sun, too much heat and too many mosquitoes. As they start walking-our fears run away with them: Are they bike riding without helmets or falling into an unguarded swimming pool when our backs are turned?

When they get to be tweens and teens, the federal government tells us, we now have a new nightmare: the increased chance our kids will spend summer experimenting with drugs, cigarettes and alcohol. This comes at a time when another study shows us many of our kids are also disregarding the dangerous effects of drugs.

A new report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration says each day in June and July an average of 6,300 young people try marijuana for the first time.

That study focuses on ages 13-17. But there's also information on tweens: One in four eighth-graders admit they have inhaled household chemicals to get high, according to a survey from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Even more shocking: Less than half of the sixth-graders polled say they believe "sniffing or huffing things to get high can kill you." How wrong they are.

More than 1,000 common household products such as glue, markers, nail polish remover, gasoline and canned propellants, such as cooking spray and hair spray, contain fumes that, when inhaled, deprive the brain of oxygen, leading to a feeling of intoxication.

Parents don't often think of inhalants as a problem. The Partnership study says only 3 percent of parents think their child has tried inhalants. Kids think of it as a cheap and easy high, discounting the side effects, which include death. And it can kill the first time.

This is dangerous. Minor side effects include headaches, muscle weakness and mood swings. But concentrated amounts of chemicals can cause irreversible central nervous system, brain, liver or kidney damage, heart failure and suffocation.

As if that isn't enough bad news, the feds also report first-time experimentation with alcohol and tobacco rises in the summer.

Scary, right? But the good news for us parents is that we have the power to prevent this.

The first step is awareness. Now you know.

Next, educate yourself. You should know the trendy terms for inhalants-sniffing and huffing-since your kids may never have heard the term "inhalants." You should also know which ones in your house are dangerous.

Finally, talk about it. Right now. Even if your kids are still in preschool. And don't give up if your kids are older. Even teens say that fear of upsetting their parents or losing the respect of family and friends is one of the main reasons they don't smoke marijuana or use other drugs. Sadly, though, only one in three teenagers report learning a lot about the risks of drugs at home, according to the Partnership survey.

For advice on how to start the conversation, whether your kids are 3 or 13, visit the Partnership for a Drug-Free America Web site, www.drugfreeamerica.org and click on "parent/caregivers." Or, if you'd like the government's help, visit www.TheAntiDrug.com/SchoolsOut.


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