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Placer teens struggle with pill popping

Study finds 75 percent of U.S. high school students have used addictive substances
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Roseville and Granite Bay are not immune to drugs seeping into the lives of local youth.

In fact, studies show that no community is immune. But these two northern California locales have a bit of a twist. Teenagers here prefer to pop pills — at nearly two times the national trend.

“There are more prescription drugs in our area,” said Alan Baker, a volunteer with the Coalition for Placer Youth. “The dominant factor is availability. And they may see their parents take (pills), too.”

Some teenagers mistakenly believe that abusing medication isn’t as bad as taking other elicit drugs because the pills were originally prescribed by a doctor.

“There is some respect for authority,” Baker said.

For instance, his group has found that Placer County teens may think drinking is safe, as long as they don’t drive. Weed use is also slightly below the national average, as it is an illegal substance.

In July, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse came out with some startling findings indicating that teen substance abuse is “America’s number one public health problem,” according to the report.

The study found that 75 percent of all high school students in the United States have used addictive substances, including tobacco, alcohol, marijuana or cocaine. Additionally, 46 percent of all high school students, or 6.1 million, currently use addictive substances — one in three of these kids meets the medical criteria for addiction.

Substance abuse among Placer County youth is consistent with the national trend for alcohol but is experiencing higher rates of prescription pill abuse, Baker said. Users will snort prescription pills, smoke it and shoot it up their veins — experts say abusing pills is just as dangerous as using other less-glamorous street drugs such as heroin.

The 2008-09 California Healthy Kids Survey found that one in five 11th graders in Placer County abuses prescription pills. The national average is about one in 10. And 62 percent of local youth say pills are easy to find.

Locally, there are as many new abusers age 12 to 17 of prescription drugs as there are of marijuana. Seven of the 10 most commonly abused drugs by teenagers are prescription medications.

Kathie Sinor, a health educator at Granite Bay High School, says her students primarily experiment with alcohol, marijuana and prescription pills. Many teens who obtain prescription medications find them in their home medicine cabinet.

“They see doctors prescribing the medication so they think it can’t be too bad, or they see their parents solving their own anxiety through prescription pills,” Sinor said. “They see it as a means of escape and solving their problems.”

Sinor, who has taught at the high school for 15 years, mainly interacts with ninth graders. She says freshmen are entering high school with more past-use experience.

Through the years, Sinor has observed a change in how teenagers consume illegal substances. Back when she attended high school in the 1970s, teens sipped beer. Now, they drink hard liquor and more of it.

“They aren’t drinking to get buzzed,” Sinor said. “They are drinking to get totally inebriated.”

Health educators and groups such as Coalition for Placer Youth cite a variety of reasons why teenagers turn to drugs and alcohol — popular culture influences, advertising, musicians and celebrities who glorify risky behavior, depression, low self-esteem, peer pressure and eagerness to fit in with the crowd.

Joanna Jullien, a founding member of Coalition for Placer Youth, says peer pressure is even more rampant today as kids can’t escape the digital world where peer communities operate 24/7 and constant pressure invades their lives.

Technology — the Internet, cell phones, texting — is connecting kids in a different way and they are forming “new norms,” she said, which might not always be healthy. Parents may not be aware of this new digital world and how it affects their children’s choices.

Some parents think their child is immune from trying drugs and alcohol, even when it’s happening right under their own nose.

According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse report, 63 percent of youth who drink alcohol reported that they initially got the alcohol from their own home or a friend’s home. Only one in 100 parents believes their teen binge drinks. But, actually, one in five do.

Sinor, the coalition and other community members are trying to prevent teen substance abuse as they know that 90 percent of drug addictions begin in high school.

“It’s really a complicated problem and it can be really frustrating at times because it feels like such a huge problem,” Baker said. “But even if you save one person, it’s worth it.”

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Wasted youth: This is the first article in a three-part series on teen substance abuse. Today: Get facts on the problem. Aug. 10: Meet a recovering addict. Aug. 17: How people are tackling the problem.

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Placer County teen substance abuse
• 10 percent of seventh graders report drinking in the last 30 days
• 21 percent of ninth graders report drinking in the last 30 days
• 49 percent of 12th graders report drinking in the last 30 days
• 20 percent of teens are abusing prescription drugs
• 62 percent of teens say prescription drugs are easily available
• 43 percent of 11th graders report being very drunk after drinking alcohol
• 26 percent have driven or been driven by somebody who has been drinking
• 12 percent of ninth graders and 23 percent of 11t h graders reported binge drinking

Source: 2008-09 California Healthy Kids Survey and Coalition for Placer Youth

National teen substance abuse
• Nine out of 10 Americans who meet the criteria for addiction started smoking, drinking or using other drugs before age 18
• 75 percent of all high school students have used addictive substances
• 46 percent of all high school students currently use addictive substances, and one in three of them meets the medical criteria for addiction

Source: National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse

Teen substance abuse: What to watch for
Sudden weight loss or gain
Drop in grades
Aggression
Denial
Depression or paranoia
Emotional outburst
Poor motivation
Inability to sit still
Irritability
Sweating
Excessive sleeping
Change in friends
Secretive behavior

Source: Full Circle Treatment Center