The Growing Epidemic Facing Our Teens — And What Every Parent Can Do

All teenagers are taught in school and at home about the dangers of illegal drugs.

But many children experiment due to peer pressure or the stressors of adolescence, thinking they will find a form of escape or release from their problems.

In recent years, however, the danger for our teens has shifted from alcohol and narcotics to something equally as sinister and dangerous — synthetic drugs.

And parents may be shocked to learn how easy it is for their children to obtain these drugs, and how deadly the side effects can be.

Teens feel that these substances are far less dangerous than illegal drugs, providing the same high — and with the misnomer “synthetic”; it gives them the impression that they are not “real” drugs.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

NPR Health News reports:

Patients present with a range of symptoms, from agitation, hallucinations and psychosis to dangerously high blood pressure and seizures. Most recover with supportive therapy. Some, however, experience irreversible heart, brain and kidney damage. A few die.

How is it that these dangerous drugs can be so widely accessible?

One reason is that they encompass a large of number of compounds. Some are similar to amphetamines; others have ingredients similar to cannabinoids (the active ingredients in marijuana) and are referred to as synthetic marijuana.

Another reason is misleading advertising. Sold in gas stations, corner stores and online, these drugs are marketed as room fresheners, herbal incense, bath salts or potpourri.

These drugs are mislabeled as herbal substances, sold in colorful packages resembling children’s cartoons, and require no need for back-alley dealings to acquire them.

Popular synthetics include “K2” or “Spice”, which resembles marijuana with far more dangerous side effects, and synthetic cocaine known as “Charge” or “Pump-it Powder”, or — the most popular and widely sold — bath salts.

And they have led to hallucinations, organ damage, suicide, and even homicide in teen users.

ER physicians who see young patients experiencing severe and possibly life-threatening symptoms are often at a loss for treatment protocols — and cases are skyrocketing.

Many toxicology tests used by physicians to determine the presence of illegal drugs cannot read these synthetic substances, or cannot keep up with the constant change in mixed compounds, and therefore the tests can come back as “clean”.

Despite the false sense of security that lures teens to experiment with these drugs, they can have a potency of a hundred times or more than that of their illegal counterparts.

And though they hold equal, if not greater, dangers when consumed, existing laws and regulations continue to fall one step behind the manufacturers.

The chemists and distributors of these drugs stay ahead of the law by constantly switching the chemical compounds contained in each shipment.

Once one chemical is outlawed, another is quickly and carelessly added in its place.  Since the Drug Enforcement Administration first started outlawing these compounds in 2011, more than 250 new chemicals have taken their place.

NPR Health News reports:

If federal regulation of these substances is so challenging, what can be done to reduce the harmful effects on our youth?

First, local legislative efforts can be effective. New York City and Washington, D.C., are among major cities that passed legislation in 2015 to ban the sale of synthetic drugs. [Bills are also being introduced] to impose civil as well as criminal penalties to sellers. It also allows inspectors to remove these drugs from stores at time of discovery, and provides a mechanism for citizens to anonymously report stores selling these substances.

Parents typically know to discuss the dangers of drug use with their teens, but often don’t think to introduce the topic of synthetics into the conversation.

Even parents can be misled by the innocent looking images on packaging that may turn up in their homes.

Keeping the lines of communication open with your teen, and warning them of what to look for when spending time with friends, can make all the difference.

Parents can also do their part by sharing this article with friends and family, and on social media.

Until a coordinated national effort is implemented, synthetic drug manufacturers will continue to profit from the peer pressure experienced by our children — leaving parents as the first line of defense.

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