03/19/04 — Substance abuse discussed at "Lunch and Learn"

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Substance abuse discussed at "Lunch and Learn"

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on March 19, 2004 2:03 PM

Drug treatment counselors are fighting two battles -- against increasingly dangerous drugs and against apathetic families, a Goldsboro specialist said Wednesday.

Michael Herring had a 16-year-old client whose mother knew that he was frequently using cocaine. The mother's only comment was "You better not get into any trouble with it," Herring said.

Herring, a certified clinical addictions specialist, spoke about substance abuse at Wednesday's "Lunch and Learn" seminar. The event was sponsored by the Mental Health Association in Wayne County.

Drugs have been regarded as a threat to society for centuries, although some have slipped back and forth across the line of respectability, Herring said. At times, coffee drinkers were punished and cocaine has been legal.

Even today, the lines are blurred, he said. TV newscasts are full of stories about drug crimes, broken up by commercial breaks promoting miracle medication.

Local treatment facilities are seeing more people with problems with methamphetamine, a stimulant known by many street names but most commonly as "gas" here, Herring said. "They call it that because they smoke it."

The drug worries Herring because the manufacturing process includes several chemicals that can be harmful by themselves. "You reckon they have any scientists putting that together?" he asked. "People are putting who knows what in their bodies."

These drugs can be especially dangerous to young people because they don't have the decision-making ability to weigh the potential risks, he said.

He cited some statistics from national surveys of high school students:

*90 percent of high school seniors have tried alcohol.

*20 percent of 17- and 18-year-olds say they drink on a regular basis.

*15 percent of teens admit to having tried cocaine.

*Underage drinkers are estimated to drink more than 20 percent of all alcohol consumed in this country.

Substance abuse has dire consequences for teens, he said. Drugs or alcohol are involved with 70 percent of all suicides, 50 percent of all date rapes, and 25 percent of all accidental deaths.

Yet some young people start using drugs with their families' knowledge, even permission. How does a counselor make any progress, Herring wondered, when teens admit that they smoke marijuana with their parents?

Families get into trouble when parents don't set rules, he said. "When the kids get to be teen-agers, they run the house."

Although intervention and counseling have good success rates, prevention is the best "drug treatment," he said. "We know it works because people have to make a decision to have that first drink or to smoke that first cigarette."

Parents need to prepare children for the difficult choices they'll face, he said.

Young people will tend to make the right choices if, by the age of 12, they have strong sense of family and their role in it, a spiritual life, and knowledge of the dangers of illegal drugs, Herring said.

It's also important for children to develop attachments to adults, other than their parents, who can serve as role models and confidants, he said. Teachers, coaches and spiritual leaders can fill these roles, he added.

Herring works as a substance abuse clinical supervisor for the Methodist Home for Children's Bridges Program. He also has a private practice with Wayne Psychiatric Associates P.A. in Goldsboro.