Encouraging healthy behavior and decreasing substance abuse in our community.


Published on December 17th, 2018 | by Deb Wolf


Why we need safe homes for our kids

Current prEvents — December 14, 2018 — The Times Argus

By GINNY BURLEY – the Prevention Educator for Central Vermont New Directions Coalition

We work hard to keep our homes safe. We have fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, safety gates and plug protectors.  But we need to do more, especially for youth. Threats to safety include prescription drugs, illegal drugs, alcohol, tobacco, vapes, sharps, and marijuana. These substances may lead to addiction and substance misuse. Here’s what to think about as you scope out your home.

Prescription drugs contribute to Vermont’s opioid epidemic. Many homes have leftover medications hanging around that are accessible to family and visitors. Most people who take a pill that was not prescribed for them got it from friends, family or the medicine cabinet. According to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 10% of Vermont high school students reported doing this too! Lock your meds up while you are taking them. Practice safe use, safe storage, and safe disposal. In Washington County, police stations, the hospital, and many pharmacies have permanent drop boxes for unused drugs; mail-back envelopes are available at libraries and senior centers; and twice a year Take Back Days collect tons of drugs. For safe disposal locations and free prescription medication mail-back envelopes, visit: http://www.healthvermont.gov/alcohol-drugs/services/prescription-drug-disposal

Alcohol: Where is the easiest place for kids to find beer? Right next to the milk! You may never serve alcohol to youth, but if it is available it is accessible. As with all substances, early use is dangerous. People who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who wait until 21. In Vermont, 33% of High School students currently drink alcohol and 17% binge drink. Alcohol is harmful to the developing teen brain. The areas of the brain responsible for memory, learning, planning, judgment, decision-making, impulse control, and language, are especially vulnerable. Such damage may be permanent.

Tobacco and Vaping: With the use of e-cigarettes (also called vapes or Juuls) tobacco use has grown exponentially. While less than 10% of high school students still smoke cigarettes, a whopping 34% have vaped. Youth are vaping at home, at school, even in class. Parents and teachers have been blindsided by the vaping phenomenon; parents have even bought vapes for their kids, unaware that they contain highly addictive nicotine and other toxic chemicals. All tobacco products should be locked away or hidden. Other risks of vaping include nicotine poisoning, exploding devices, and the prevalence of flavors that appeal to youth and encourage addiction.

Sharps: Needles, syringes, and lancets may injure people and spread infections. Sharps disposal containers are now at police stations, fire stations, and some senior centers.

Marijuana: Twenty four percent of high schoolers report smoking marijuana. One fifth of those use it more than once a day. The Vermont legislature legalized possession and homegrow for adults 21 and over. Marijuana is still illegal for anyone under 21 and is harmful for the developing teen brain. Marijuana may now be in more homes where youth are living or visiting, and it may not be kept under lock and key as the law requires. High potency and poisoning are concerns. Marijuana in the 70’s was about 2-3% THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana.) Today’s product is more likely to be 20-30% THC, and concentrates can be as strong as 90%. Most youth in treatment for drug addiction in Vermont entered due to marijuana. People who begin using before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder.

Risk Factors to keep in mind when assessing your home are Perception of Harm and Availability. When youth do not think a substance or behavior is harmful, they are more likely to indulge in it. When they think it is easy to get a substance, they are more likely to use it. The perception of harm for regular marijuana use is low at 24%, compared to 68% for smoking a pack of cigarettes. And marijuana use is rising. When asked if a substance is easy or very easy to get, alcohol was easier to get than marijuana at 68% vs.58%, and alcohol use is still higher than marijuana use. Social access is a form of availability – at home, friends’ homes, and social settings.

What to do? You do so much to keep your kids safe and healthy. Keeping your home safe from things that raise the risk of substance misuse is an important step in raising healthy kids. Talk early and often to your kids. Listen to them. Provide information. Talk to other parents. Check out the Parent Up website https://parentupvt.org/. Restrict access to alcohol and marijuana. Get unused meds and sharps out of your house safely. And have a happy, healthy New Year!

The youth statistics cited in this article are from the 2017 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey:

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