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Life's fast pace could drive teen drug abuse

Marijuana, alcohol are top 2 drugs of youth, but prescription drugs making big impact.

The Noblesville Ledger, October 3, 2006

James Keyes, a certified addiction counselor, provides intense individual counseling for youth and adults. -- James.Yee@Topics.com

FISHERS -- The pace is faster for today's youth and the need to succeed is greater, says Fishers therapist James Keyes. While many local adolescents rise to the challenge, others turn to drugs to numb themselves against the constant barrage.

"The challenges they face socially and economically . . . there's more concern, there's more pressure, there's more fear," said Keyes, who's been counseling adolescents with substance abuse for more than 20 years.

The biggest difference between today's youth and kids 20 years ago is that they don't understand the value gained from delayed gratification or that sometimes it's OK to suffer or feel bad, he said.

"We live in a society which is all about instant," he said. "Kids use (drugs) over their feelings. They go through life medicated; there's a buffer between yourself and the pain."

Alcohol and marijuana continue to be the top two drugs of choice of youth, but other substances are starting to become more prevalent, he said.

In areas where more low-income residents live, inhalants from common household cleaning supplies are popular.

In affluent communities with good health-care programs, Keyes explained, more prescriptions for controlled substances are written and kids find a way to obtain them.

"A lot of prescription drugs that are around for consumption . . . are stolen," he said. "A kid comes over to visit, immediately asks to go to the restroom, rifles through the medicine cabinet, steals whatever's in there."

Bob Bragg, assistant director of the Hamilton County Probation Department, said in 2005 his office received 232 referrals for juvenile alcohol offenses, 147 for marijuana offenses and 22 for controlled substance offenses. Juvenile drug and alcohol charges make up one-third of the total referrals.

The alcohol offenses decreased by about 25 percent during the past three years, while marijuana offenses remained fairly consistent. A significantly fewer number of teens are charged with controlled substance offenses, he said, but that doesn't necessarily mean that fewer teens are using those drugs.

"Kids probably are doing it many times before they get caught," Bragg said. "I suspect that it's going on a lot more than what we see here in the Probation Department."

Bragg's office deals with 1,000-1,200 kids each year, and the ones arrested on drug and alcohol charges are, on average, 15-17 years old.

One of the most popular controlled substances is Vicodin, a popular painkiller, Keyes said.

"I treated a 19-year-old girl who was taking over 50 Vicodin a day, and I know several people who take 20 or 30 a day," he said.

Drug addiction is a disease that is genetically transmitted, Keyes said, adding that it is not a moral issue or an issue of bad parenting or bad peers.

Most parents, when confronted with a child who's abusing drugs, want to blame or control the child's external environment, he said.

"Johnny met up with Billy and Billy is a bad influence," he said. "If Johnny wants to meet with Billy and you forbid him from doing that, he'll tell you he's going out with Fred and he'll lie and hang out with Billy."

The place to start if your child has a substance abuse problem is with your child, he said.

"Don't start with the community, don't start with the school system, don't start with the courts or the police or anybody else, start with your kid. And stay focused on that.

"Hold your child accountable because that's where you have the most power," he said.