Heroin doesn’t discriminate—That’s what we as treatment professionals are telling parents, teachers, and students on Long Island, a stretch of suburban communities that seems an unlikely place for adolescents with heroin problems.
As heroin addiction among our youth continues to rise, residents of Long Island are beginning to see that an “anywhere but here” way of thinking creates a false sense of security. One of the communities to come to this realization is Sayville, once dubbed “the friendliest town in America.” Last Thursday night, a crowd of more than 600 concerned residents gathered in the auditorium of Sayville Middle School to discuss the heroin problem that has claimed too many young people.
Although I wasn’t at the meeting, I recently took part in a similar conversation with journalist Perri Peltz on SIRIUS XM’s Doctor Radio program “Is Your Kid High?” I imagine that the other panelists and I were attempting to answer the same questions as the residents of Sayville: What should parents do if they suspect their teen may be heading down the wrong path? How do they protect their children? What about respecting their privacy? Do kids have rights?
What I tried to emphasize on the program—and what I would have said had I attended the Sayville event—is that the warm, fuzzy feeling between parents and their children can be a bi-product of parenting, but is not the purpose. A parent’s job is not to be their children’s friend, but to prepare them for a healthy, successful adulthood where they can make the best choices. Therefore, if you notice signs that your child may be experimenting with drugs or drinking, do anything you can to protect your child, including “snooping.” I know of parents who eventually took off their teenager’s bedroom door after discovering a drug problem. While this may seem extreme, I don’t think it’s going too far if the circumstances require it.
Likewise, if you have reason to believe your kids are using, buying a drug testing kit at the drugstore is another tool to help keep them safe. Testing also has the added benefit of giving your children an easy out next time they’re offered drugs or alcohol; they can simply say, “I can’t. My parents test me.” But, don’t test until you know what you’ll do with the results—positive or negative.
Finally, remember that there are no guarantees. Sometimes all the snooping and tough love in the world won’t stop substance abuse. Ask my parents! Addiction is a chronic medical illness, just like hypertension, diabetes and asthma; all have genetic, environmental, and behavioral components.
But for every life lost—for every John Belushi, River Phoenix, and DJ AM—there are people like myself and two inspiring young men, Adam Parbus and Naveed Etemadipour.
Adam, the 20-year-old guest speaker at Sayville Middle School who started using drugs to ”be cool,” survived an overdose from a lethal mix of heroin, Xanax, and vodka. He received treatment at our East Hampton Academy and recently said he’s grateful to be alive and drug-free for over a year.
Naveed, my fellow panelist on the Doctor Radio program, is now a part-time counselor in training at Phoenix House after a stay at our San Diego Academy. Offering his thoughts on parenting, he said, “Being cuddly and friendly [is what parents think they should be]…but being strict is being a parent. You can’t force your children to make the right decisions, but you can guide them. That’s what I lacked—the structure and tough love—and that’s what’s most important.”
As a person in long-term recovery, I salute Naveed and Adam’s courage to share their stories and I urge parents on Long Island and other communities across the country to know the warning signs and take action—before it’s too late.Deni Carise, Ph.D. Chief Clinical Officer, Phoenix House Adjunct Clinical Professor, University of Pennsylvania Scientist, Treatment Systems Section, Treatment Research Institute
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