Out of the many things they don’t clearly explain to you before you have kids, is how dangerous the world is. From the baby days of deadly coffee table corners to toddlers figuring out how to remove the safety plugs from outlets, raising children is a death defying feat. And it’s never ending. As your kids grow the dangers multiply and your ability to control them declines. Every news broadcast or article posted online serves as a reminder. “Girl Killed in ATV Accident”, “Missing Toddler Found in Trunk”, kids dying from the “Cinnamon Challenge”, sports injuries, binge drinking, drugs… possible demise around every corner.
It’s easy to think “my kid would never…”, “my kid knows better…”, “I told my kid…”. And just as these phrases play in my head they are verbalized by the devastated parents being interviewed on the news.
Often after hearing one of these stories I wonder if my kids, although young, would know what to do – and if they know, would they do it? Each year brings a little more responsibility for them and worry for me. Accidents happen, even when you’re safe and “bad guys” are few, I hope, but, the most challenging dangers for parents, drugs and alcohol, aren’t as easy to protect your kids from. Just saying “No” isn’t enough.
The dangers of drugs have been on my mind since last week when the Northland’s Newscenter reported that Northland Law Enforcement agencies are calling the growing number of cases of heroin use and opiate drug abuse a regional crisis. Douglas County, WI experienced 10-20 times more cases in the last year than ever before. Over 200 people died in Minnesota in 2013 from opiate pain relievers and 91 from heroin overdoses, out of 507 overdoses total. These deaths amount to more than the traffic related deaths in the same year.
Heroin is at epidemic levels just down the highway in the Twin Ports. An increased demand for narcotic painkillers is contributing to a spike in use. Heroin, vicodin, oxycodone and oxycontin are all opiate based substances. The Pioneer Press reported last month that some prescription drug abusers eventually shift use to heroin because its often cheaper and sometimes more accessible, and not just to the stereotypical dark alley dwellers one might think of with a notoriously dangerous drug like heroin.
According to USNoDrugs.com (a drug treatment assistance website), between 2002-2003 there were an estimated 115,000 people with an illicit drug addiction or abuse problem in Minnesota and 26,000 were between 12-17 years old. Gulp.
My innocent, darling daughter just turned 9. Trying to imagine someone asking her if she wants to try drugs in three years is practically inconceivable. Yet, in 1999, Minnesota ranked 8th of all states for drug use in 12-17 year olds, 2nd for drug-related emergency hospital visits in that age group and if you just look at girls, we were #1. Hmpf.
It’s easy to think in the quiet country we’re immune to these “big city” problems, but rural kids are at risk. R. Gil Kerlkonske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy reported that in 2008, while rural Americans used illicit drugs at lower levels than suburban and metro populations (6% compared to 8-9%), rural kids had almost double the meth use of urban kids, and rural kids between 12-17 were more likely to have used oxycontin/painkillers, alcohol, tobacco (especially smokeless, and use it more heavily) and binge drink and drive.
I’ve always tried to prepare my kids for the scary things they could encounter. Google images are worth 1000 words when you want to scare them straight on what happens to your teeth when you don’t brush them or the variety of injuries one can sustain while jumping on the bed. We talk about stranger danger and what to do when someone grabs them and who the bad guys maybe and how they may act, but with drugs the “bad guy” might be their friend and the drugs could look like anything, it could be slipped to them without their knowledge, it could be pressured to the point where all my words of caution are drowned out, it could happen for a while before I even notice or it could devastate me by surprise. The Minnesota Department of Human Services advises the best prevention is a strong family bond, parents keeping tabs on activities and peers, clear rules that are enforced, success in school and verbal discussion of the dangers. There are policies that promote drug-free curriculum in schools, too. We’ve come a long way from “Just Say No”, but I still don’t think it’s enough.
Drug abuse, especially among children is not just an individual or family problem, but a community problem. It’s only as a community we can protect our kids. Let’s set aside our egos, high brows and our upturned noses. And, let’s make a deal. We have an advantage in a small community - while you may not know everyone, you probably have mutual friends, and probably know whose kids are whose. So, if you see my kid doing something they shouldn’t, tell me, and I’ll do the same for you. Make this deal with all the parents you know. I would rather endure the surprise, embarrassment, shame and following confrontation with the offending child than suffer a much worse but highly possible fate, I hope most parents would agree. If we look away, we may lose one. I don’t want it to one of mine, or one of yours.
Angie Simonson lives with her husband and 4 kiddos in Meadowlands.