Parents the first line of defense
By Mark Henry
Editor's note: The following guest commentary is from Mark Henry, director of the DuPage Metropolitan Enforcement Group, the multijurisdictional narcotics task force.
I believe no one person or organization can effectively reduce drug abuse alone.
To battle the problem, a partnership combining prevention, enforcement and intervention programs must exist. While police officers focus primarily upon enforcement, all of us understand the need for prevention and intervention. Great strides have been made during the past two decades with this type of cooperative effort.
For example, the number of illegal drug users who use drugs at least one time each month has been reduced by nearly 50 percent since 1985. But research also indicates that about 50 percent of current high school seniors will have tried drugs before graduation.
Today's children are the future of this great nation. Parents, siblings, teachers, school counselors and religious leaders all have influence during the life of a child. While all are important, I would like to focus my remaining comments on parents. Parents are truly the first line of prevention.
Parents need to be informed about the many issues facing their children, including drugs. This includes learning about which drugs are popular now. Some current drugs were nonexistent 20 years ago.
Once informed, it is paramount that a parent use this information to enhance effective communication with their children. Parents who teach their children about the dangers of drugs will find their children 36 percent less likely to smoke marijuana, 50 percent less likely to use inhalants, 56 percent less likely to use cocaine and 65 percent less likely to use LSD, research suggests.
Talking to your children about drugs can be difficult and it is more difficult to talk to your child about a drug you never knew existed. Traditional plant-based drugs, such as marijuana and cocaine, are slowly being replaced by "designer" drugs in which criminals are mixing various chemicals together.
These drugs are often referred to as "rave drugs" or "club drugs." While traditional drugs are still being abused, new drugs (such as Ecstasy and GHB) have emerged as the preferred drugs for many young adults. Because of the lack of quality control in the production process, these drugs can be much more potent (and lethal) than the drugs of the past.
These drugs are not produced by pharmaceutical companies, but rather by criminals with no concern for the safety of the users. These criminals are concerned about making money, not producing a medically "safe" drug.
As a parent, if you don't know the significance of baby pacifiers, menthol rubs, menthol inhalants or glow-in-the-dark light sticks within the culture of illegal drug abuse, you need to begin the process of becoming informed. A parent's ability to recognize early signs of drug abuse could be the difference between life and death. In today's society, there is no excuse to remain uninformed.
The Internet is a wonderful tool to learn about drugs and their effects. The DuPage Metropolitan Enforcement Group has a Web site (www.dupagemeg.com) that will provide information on "club drugs" and links to other sites for additional information. This is a good starting point, but hundreds of other sites also are accessible with educating information.
Additionally, community groups throughout the Chicago area provide training seminars on a variety of subjects, including current drug trends and emerging drugs. Many school districts and local police departments also provide training to citizens in a variety of ways.
Find those available resources in your local community and get informed. As a parent, you have an obligation to become informed. Once informed, you can effectively communicate with your child. This is better than waiting for a police officer to communicate the following to your child: "You have the right to remain silent..."