Drug symposium warns parents about substance abuse
Master Sergeant Christopher Sullivan, of the Lake County Metropolitan Enforcement Group, speaks during the Community Symposium "Saving Our Children" on Wednesday at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
What needs to be done to reduce teen drug use?
Updated: June 18, 2012 8:21AM
While listening to the drug abuse testimony of one mother-son pair at Stevenson and Buffalo Grove high school’s annual drug symposium, Mary Furlong remembered it wasn’t too long ago her then 15-year-old son overdosed.
“He called me and he told me that he was sick and that he threw up on the bus,” Furlong said. “He asked, would I go get him, and I said, of course.”
Furlong was unaware Will had taken Xanax, an anti-anxiety prescription drug, and smoked K2, a synthetic form of marijuana illegal in Illinois since 2011. She also did not know this wasn’t her son’s first experience with substance abuse.
He later admitted to drinking alcohol in junior high school, but not liking the taste.
“By the time the parents catch them, they’ve been doing it for a while,” she said.
Stevenson High School hosted the Community Symposium “Saving Our Children” on Wednesday, a discussion of the dangers of illicit drug use. Also invited were families from Libertyville and Vernon Hills high schools.
A 2010 Illinois Youth Survey revealed that 10 percent of eighth graders in Lake County have taken a sip or two of alcohol at ages 10 or younger. Six percent of sophomores in the county have smoked marijuana once or twice in a month.
However, the 2010 survey did not include questions about adolescent use of over-the-counter drugs in a 30-day period. Elisabeth Nelson, community health specialist at the Lake County Health Department said the 2012 survey will include statistics on prescription drugs and painkillers.
“We have seen a slight increase in prescription drug abuse in the past year’s data,” Nelson said. “Cough medicine is higher than pain killers.”
Nelson said anecdotal data from substance abuse treatment centers point to teens trying prescription painkillers such as Oxycotin and Percocet before experimenting with more addictive drugs, such as heroin.
“I don’t think that there’s anything that (the kids) can’t get. It’s either in the parents or grandparents medicine cabinets, and it’s not things that are on adult’s radar,” Nelson said.
Alcohol is still number one for teen substance abuse, but Nelson said inhalants — anything from household spray cans to permanent markers — are more of an issue for middle school-aged children.
“They have more access to those sorts of things than to marijuana,” Nelson said.
That’s why Stephanie Elsass, student assistance program coordinator at Stevenson High School, collaborates with nearby high schools every year to host a panel of experts for the symposium. She wants to help make parents more aware and educated about the dangers to their children.
“I think everyone in the country is worried about kids with prescription drugs,” said Elsass, who has hosted the symposium for seven years.
“The prescription drugs are so extremely scary because they are so easily available,” said Furlong, who placed her son into Families and Adolescents in Recovery, Inc., an outpatient substance abuse treatment program in Schaumburg.
Will, 16, is now a Stevenson sophomore and has graduated from the FAIR treatment program. He attended Wednesday’s Symposium with his mother.
“We’re watching him like a hawk,” Furlong said. “Little by little, he gets his freedoms returned. Like now, he has a cell phone but he has no texting. And no Facebook page.”
Nelson said children should be monitored more in the summer, when they have more free time. She also encourages parents to have conversations with their kids about drugs early.
“We say it’s never too early,” she said. “You talk about the difference between candy and medicine when they are little. And when they get into upper elementary, you start talking about why things are legal when you’re an adult.”