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Parents learn the signs of drug use

District sponsors drug education seminar

April 1, 2009

The March 1 death of Whitefish Bay High School freshman Madison Kiefer, 15, has parents scrambling for tips on signs of drugs abuse.

Something as seemingly innocent as finding a fabric softener sheet in a teenager's room should set off alarm bells for parents, drug and alcohol addiction counselor Ron Gammon told his audience at Whitefish Bay High School on March 24.

More than 100 people filled the cafeteria for the district-sponsored fifth annual parent discussion night. The topic was "Teens, Alcohol and Drugs: Signs of Use and What to Do Next."

Gammon has treated adolescents and adults for alcohol and drug addictions for more than 18 years in in-patient and out-patient hospital settings and now in private practice. Gammon freely admitted he had his own habit to kick.

Fabric softener sheets are a potential tip-off, Gammon told parents, because kids smoking marijuana use them to help keep the smell of burning marijuana from getting into the air and on their clothing.

Parents must be vigilant and involved, he urged.

"The war on drugs starts at home," he said.

Cigarette packs, aluminum foil and pens missing their ink cartridges all can signal a person who snorts illegal or prescription drugs, he said. Eye drops could point to a teenager who wants to get rid of red eyes, a side effect of marijuana use, he said.

Curfews, searches

Gammon has seen 42 of his patients die and he unabashedly told parents to search their children's rooms, their backpacks, their coats, their pants. Parents probably will feel they are breaking their children's trust, he said.

"But on the other hand, you might just be saving lives," he said.

Gammon had more uncomfortable advice for parents: they need to be in their children's lives, set a curfew and be up when their children come home.

Based on what he hears from his young addicts, Gammon recommended a curfew of 10 or 10:30 p.m.

"They tell me what happens after 10:30 p.m.," he said.

Even though kids who want to do drugs will get an early start if they have a curfew, he said, parents are still better off setting one.

When their children come home, parents should talk to them to be sure they have not been drinking or taking drugs, he said. A parent who just listens for their child cannot see if their child is staggering or smells of alcohol or marijuana, Gammon said.

Trends, changes

Because abuse of stolen prescription drugs is the fastest-growing form of drug abuse, Gammon warned parents to lock up medications and throw out old pills.

Today's marijuana is far more potent than the pot of 20 years ago, he said. Today, cocaine is sometimes sprinkled over the marijuana, he said.

A 14-year-old girl who came into a hospital emergency room where he was working is in a nursing home because her marijuana had been boosted with phencyclidine, he said, which is a drug developed in the 1950s as an anesthetic and discontinued due to side effects.

Parent sets rules

Among the parents in the audience was Tom Bruno of Whitefish Bay, whose two children, 16 and 14, attend Whitefish Bay High School. He agreed parents need to stop tiptoeing around their children.

When his children have guests, he makes sure he drops in on them often to see that nothing is going on, he said.

"Does my daughter look at me funny? Yes," he said, "But my kids know I'm coming."

Neither is he afraid to lay down rules such as curfews.

If his children object that friends have later curfews, he simply responds, "That is not how this family operates."

His children also know he will be wide awake when they come home, he said.

Jane Ford-Stewart can be reached at (262) 446-6607.

AT A GLANCE

Other advice addiction specialist Ron Gammon offered:

• When your child makes plans, call the parents of the other child and confirm the actual plan and confirm the parents will be there during the time your child is there. If young people are at your home, drop in on them several times to supervise.

• Do not wait until children are in high school to be vigilant. Drug and alcohol abuse is starting with much younger children.

• Get the facts. For authoritative information on drugs - what they are, how they affect kids and the latest on the drug scene - turn to the National Institute on Drug Abuse at nida.nih.gov.

• Information is available from Whitefish Bay School District alcohol and other drug abuse counselor Renee Wendt, (414) 963-6816.

NEXT STEPS

WHAT: Bay United, a parent group formed after the March 1 death of Whitefish Bay High School freshman Madison Kiefer has scheduled meetings to address parent concerns.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 7

WHERE: Dominican High School, 120 E. Silver Spring Drive

WHAT: Whitefish Bay school officials will address a number of topics including a possible closed campus, drug education, drug-sniffing dogs in schools, what is done with kids coming to school on drugs, and how schools and parents can work together.

WHEN: May

WHAT: Whitefish Bay School Board review of the schools' anti-drug activities

WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 27

WHERE: Whitefish Bay High School, 1200 E. Fairmount Ave.

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