What's In Your Home That Can Get Your Kids High?
The medicine cabinet. When I had small children, I worried about one of my girls getting into the cough syrups that I had stocked for those unfortunate sick days.
As I have been researching this article and talking with physicians, psychologists and law enforcement officers, my worries have changed. Now, as my children begin to enter their pre-teen years, I need to worry again about overdoses but of a different nature. Today, teens are using many over-the-counter medicines, prescription drugs and other everyday household items to get a quick high.
Sergeant Greg Meagher of the Richmond County Narcotics Division says teens will do anything to get high—even steal from friends, parents and grandparents. Sergeant Meagher sees a lot of kids who are hooked on prescription drugs. “Kids are stealing their parents’ and grandparents’ prescription drugs, especially from those who have chronic illnesses or cancer,” he says. Because these drugs are prescribed by a doctor and are from a pharmacy, kids think they are safe, but they are far from benign when abused.
Elizabeth Waterman, Psy.D., licensed psychologist, says the most common prescription drugs being abused by teens are opiates, such as Oxycontin, Roxicdodone, Vicodin, Norco and Percocet, stimulants such as Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse and Concerta and Benzodiazapines including Xanax, Klonopin and Valium. Muscle relaxers are less common, but are also being abused by teens.
Dr. Waterman says many kids steal these drugs from peers and parents or buy them from other kids. “Some adolescents are even prescribed these medications by doctors and they end up using more than prescribed, taking them in ways other than indicated on the prescription (i.g. snorting or injecting) or taking them in combination with other substances like alcohol,” she says.
Natalie E. Lane, M.D., medical director of the Children’s Medical Center Emergency Department of Georgia Health Sciences University, says many kids are sharing their ADHD drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin with their peers. Acting as a stimulant, these drugs are highly popular among teens, especially college students.
Dr. Lane says one of the most common things she sees at the CMC Emergency Department is abuse of over-the-counter medications. “Medicines that contain dextromethoraphan (DM) in high doses can be quite dangerous,” says Dr. Lane. “They produce a very potent hallucinogenic, euphoric high, but it is short lived.”
Many stores and pharmacies have limited who can buy these types of cold and cough medicines to those who are 18 and over. Some examples are NyQuil, Robitussin and other cough suppressants. Even with these restrictions, most of these medicines are widely available and somewhat easy to obtain. In fact, you might have them in your medicine cabinet right now.
Dr. Waterman also says teens are using the anti-motion sickness medication Dramamine to get high. “The OTC medicine produces hallucinations, confusion, paranoia and memory loss when taken at high doses,” she says.
Sedgrid Lewis, founder of Spy Parent LLC, says that teens are mixing cough syrups that contain DM with soft drinks along with a pink or purple Jolly Rancher candy. “This is very popular due to hip-hop superstars such as Drake, Lil Wayne and Ricky Ross mentioning the syrup-based drink in some of their more popular songs,” says Lewis. Sergeant Meagher also says some teens are soaking marijuana in cough syrup, which gives them a really big high.
In addition to the cough syrups and prescription drug abuse, teens are also using many household items to get high.
Hand sanitizer is one of these products. Waterman says that this product contains about 62 percent ethyl alcohol and can be ingested orally to become intoxicated. “A distillation process that involves the use of salt is sometimes used to separate the alcohol from other ingredients in the product,” she says. Then, the distilled liquid is consumed like a shot of liquor.
Another household item is canned whipped cream. Known as “whippits” or “whip-its,” kids can inhale the nitrous oxide that is used to expel the whipped cream from the can, according to Dr. Waterman. Nitrous oxide is laughing gas, which is typically used during dental procedures. The gas can be inhaled by placing your mouth over the upright can and then pressing the valve, which releases the gas but not the cream. Alternately, it can be emptied into balloons and inhaled. The effect of inhalation is lightheadedness and what some describe as an out-of-body type of experience which lasts for only a few seconds and causes the brain to be deprived of oxygen.
Another common inhalant is computer cleaner, says Dr. Lane, who notes that inhalants sometimes fly under the radar. These aerosol dusters are used for “huffing,” which is when you spray the highly volatile substances into a rag and then inhale it. Like whippits, this causes a hallucinogenic effect. However, huffing can cause cardiac arrest in some instances.
Other inhalants include glue, butane and paint thinner, which can be highly dangerous when inhaled in large amounts. All of these can cause damage to the brain, kidneys, lungs and other organs, according to Dr. Waterman.
Dr. Lane says some of the warning signs that indicate your teen may be abusing these types of drugs can be confused with typical teen behaviors. Your teen may be abusing drugs if you notice they are more defiant or irritable than usual, have changes in their hygiene and or appearance, are hanging out with a new group of friends or smell strange (from huffing).
Lewis says parents should also take notice if their child begins to become socially withdrawn from the family, adding that parents should also watch their child’s spending, which can increase if they are buying drugs and also if they are selling clothes or other items to get money for drugs. Be on the lookout for empty bottles or pill packs in the trash of your child’s room or car.
Dr. Waterman says that parents should take inventory of your medicine cabinet for medications that could be missing. Take note of the number of pills or the amount of liquid medicine you have on hand and keep an eye out for missing medications.
Stay on the alert. “If your child appears extremely lethargic, intoxicated, unusually clumsy or uncoordinated, disoriented, highly irritable or irrational, or is highly withdrawn, he or she may have abused some household medication,” says Dr. Waterman.
Prevention and Next Steps
Dr. Lane says it is crucial for parents to be involved in educating their children about the effects of this abuse. “There is a series of levels of abuse of products,” she says. “A lot of it is experimentation and may not be identified right away.” But, once you spot any abuse whatsoever it is important to get to the bottom of the issue to see how big the problem is. Is the teen stealing money for drugs? Do they need the medication on a daily basis just to function? If so, professional help is needed.
It is also important to reassess the household and make medications less accessible. Dr. Waterman suggests locking up any prescription and over-the-counter medications so they are not readily available to pre-teens and teens.
If you suspect that your child is abusing, you should consult a medical health professional or addiction specialist. Dr. Lane advises talking to your family medicine physician or pediatrician first. They can help both the teen abusing and the whole family in the healing process and can point you in the right direction for help.
“You can reduce the risk of recreational use of household products, OTC or prescription medications by talking openly to your children about the dangers of the substances before they become a problem,” says Dr. Waterman. “Talking openly and honestly about medications and substance abuse, in addition to promoting a healthy lifestyle for all family members in the home, can reduce the risk that children will abuse these substances.”
Cammie Jones is an Augusta freelance writer and mother of three.
Salvia, Bath Salts and Spice
The airwaves have been abuzz lately about the dangers of salvia, bath salts and spice, which are available at some tobacco shops, convenience stores and online and are not illegal in all states at this time.
What Is Salvia?
Genus name: Salvia Divinorum
Salvia is a psychoactive herb in the mint family. When the leaves are dried and smoked, it produces a high similar to hallucinogenics such as LSD and mushrooms. The high usually lasts for about 30 minutes and is characterized by changes in sensation and perception. In Georgia, House Bill 1021 passed in July 2012 adding salvia the list of dangerous drugs and limiting the legal uses to aesthetic, landscaping or decorative purposes. South Carolina’s House Bill 4687 passed the House but later died.
What Are “Bath Salts?”
Street names: Vanilla Sky, Bliss and Purple Haze
“Bath salts” are a synthetic drug that looks like the bath salts one would sprinkle into the tub before taking a bath. Sergeant Meagher says that teens inject it, crush and snort it or inhale it using vaporizers. “Bath salts” are sold in many smoke shops and mimic the effects of methamphetimines. Sergeant Meagher says that “bath salts” are sometimes marketed as a plant food/fertilizer or even as an air freshener bag you put in your vacuum cleaner.
What Is Spice?
Spice is a synthetic form of marijuana sold legally in smoke shops. It is smoked like marijuana and produces a high that include reduced anxiety, elevated mood and paranoia, according to Dr. Waterman.