EDUCATION CONNECTION—When It’s Your Child: The New Face of Drugs

By on October 1, 2014
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By Adrian Hickmon, PhD

10472732_270478076492170_5343237508379279120_nFor parents, the sweetest sound we can hear is when the word “Dad” or “Mom” is spoken to us. We began our connection to these words when we discovered that we were going to be parents, either by birthing or adopting a baby. We dads started pretty quickly getting the “gaze” eye contact with our little miracle and saying “da da da” hoping that they would be the first words spoken while moms were doing the same with “ma ma ma.” That was a golden time when we had all the hopes and dreams of a bright future for and with our children. Hopes and dreams filled with fun, family, friends, relationship with God, Christmas memories, birthdays, graduations, ball games, recitals, first dates, weddings and fishing trips. As they grew, our hopes and dreams grew.

As one of the above parents, imagine suddenly moving from those hopes and dreams to a nightmare. You are in a hospital room standing by a bed in which lies the baby child who called you one of these sweet names. He / she is now a teenager or young adult and with tubes, monitors, respirators, and other life supporting equipment attached to them. The doctor walks in and asks you if you have made a decision. You and your spouse look at each other and nod, “Turn off the life support, we have to let him go.”

Connor face cuConnor Reid Eckhardt was just 19 when his parents experienced this scene in real life. Connor died after smoking just one hit of synthetic drug called Spice. After Connor fell into a coma and was kept on life support for four days, he was declared brain dead and the hopes and dreams ended. “You would think it would be safe, would be OKAY, it’s an alternative to marijuana and it’s anything but that. It’s a deadly poison,” Connor’s father Devin Eckhardt told TODAY.

Back in the 60s and 70s, the “Drug Culture” was mostly made up of people described as stoners, dope heads, or junkies. There was a clear delineation of the social groups—similar to the “Socs and Greasers” from the book- turned-movie The Outsiders—the in-crowd and the out-of-it-crowd. Drug Culture members didn’t hang out with other social groups and vice versa, so they were clearly recognizable. However, today there is a new face to the Drug Culture, actually many faces.

Today the Drug Culture is like a pie with many slices. There is still a slice that is identified as the stoners, but now it includes every single part of the social pie: honor students; athletes; musically-talented; Christians; country folks; preps; computer wizards; popular; unpopular; good looking; rich, poor; educated; uneducated; white; black; Hispanic; etc.

Why? Why is the drug culture expanding its boundaries? Why are so many teens and young adults vulnerable to the dangers of drugs? Why is the death of a young person to drugs so commonplace?

The answer is like a jigsaw puzzle picture with many pieces and for each individual kid and family there is a different picture that answers that question.

One undisputed piece of the puzzle is accessibility. Research and common sense point repeatedly to the strong correlation of accessibility and abuse/addiction. Accessibility refers to the number of options and the ease with which those options are accessed. First let’s look at the number of options.

The Drug Menu in 1969 included alcohol—which has hurt, killed, and ruined more people than all the other drugs put together. It also included marijuana, although the average joint smoked at Woodstock in 1969 was only 4 percent as potent as the average joint on the street today. And most teens and young adults smoke the most potent which is up to 60 times the THC. The menu also included heroin, cocaine, nicotine, and several others.

Today, the mathematically possible choices on the Drug Menu are multiplied several times over; the selections on the menu are as different as going to MacDonald’s in the sixties and going to a food court in a mall today.

Let’s take a look at just one of the new drugs on the menu, a dangerous and relatively new designer drug officially known as 25i-NBOMe. It is most commonly referred to as simply “25I” or “N-Bomb”. “Smiles” is another nickname for N-Bomb and other closely related substances.

Unfortunately, designer drugs often slip through the cracks in terms of drug enforcement, making them legal until deemed otherwise by the authorities. With regards to N-Bomb, which had previously been legal, the fatalities linked to its use resulted in the Drug Enforcement Administration classifying it as a Schedule I controlled substance in October 2013. The authorities have not been lenient with those individuals who either sold or supplied the drug to those who have suffered or died from its effects.

N-Bomb, and other hallucinogens, is known for causing powerfully altered perceptions, including brightly colored and widely distorted visual images. Some users of the drug have described its effects as “Nirvana” and “ecstasy”, reporting “trips” very similar to those experienced with LSD. As is typically the case with psychedelics, the unpredictable effects of N-Bomb have varied widely from one individual to the next.

n-bome Pleasurable effects of N-Bomb may include: euphoria, bright moving colors and other vivid visual hallucinations, spiritual “awakening”, a sense of profoundness, positive mood, enhanced awareness, enhanced creativity, loving feelings, sexual sensations and enhanced desire. Side effects of N-Bomb may include: psychosis, altered state of consciousness, agitation, erratic behavior, chills, flushing, severe double vision, teeth grinding, jaw clenching, dilated pupils, depressed mood, confusion, nausea, intense negative emotions, paranoia, intense anxiety, muscle spasms and contractions, insomnia, impaired communication, vasoconstriction, swelling of feet, hands, face, kidney damage / failure, seizures, heart failure, coma and asphyxiation (Teen Seizures and Deaths Linked to Dangerous Designer Drug “N-Bomb” – Part 1, Addiction Treatment Magazine, April 18, 2014).

SpiceSo many parents that I’ve worked with have said, “How did he get it?” because their misperception was that drugs are difficult to obtain. Unfortunately, today, any junior high kid in America can, in a matter of days or less, obtain any drug on the menu. To have had that ability in the 60s, a person would have had to have connections to organized crime. A fitting comparison would be Deener Creek, the little creek that runs through the middle of your town, and Niagara Falls.

Another dominant factor in the vulnerability to drugs has to do with a type of tolerance—even before drugs or alcohol are used. Tolerance is a term that refers to the process of needing more to get the same effect. For example, a person might drink three beers the first time they ever drink, but then in a year they are drinking six to get the same feeling from the original three. This means their tolerance has increased. The faster the tolerance pace, the more indicative—or predictive—of addiction.

Teens and young adults today have had more neural stimulation to their brains’ reward systems that any generation in history. Like the beer example above, the events that used to produce euphoria, or reward/pleasure, in their brains, are now experienced as boring, monotone, or “no big deal”. It is like a high jump bar in the brain is set at 7 feet. The jumper clears it many times. Then the bar is set at 4 feet. It is not rewarding or exciting anymore.

Adults remember the television sets with a dial that took us to a whopping three stations—ABC, NBC, and CBS. Programming ended by midnight and was only in black and white. Compare that menu to the hundreds of options we have on our TV menu today. Now find and old black and white channel and watch it exclusively. Not very “euphoric” is it?

This is very similar to the current state of our children’s brains. The baseline of euphoria, meaning experiences that activate the reward / pleasure centers of the brain, is much higher than it has ever been. Many times when kids try a drug, it is because everything else in their life falls short of that threshold of euphoria.

There are many other jigsaw puzzle pieces that answer the question, “Why?” that we will highlight in future articles, but one thing is for certain with each of them. When it is your child you have to ask the question, “What makes this make sense?” What makes it make sense that my son or daughter would partake of mood altering chemicals? Not what makes it right or smart. Not to take away responsibility, accountability or consequences. But to retrace the vine to the roots, if you will, to discover what lies beneath their behavior, attitude, and emotions.

Answers to these questions are vital to first prevent children from falling prey to this deception. Second, if it is your child in the battle now, understanding how they got there is vital to helping them win.

Knowing what lies beneath for each child is necessary for parents, church leaders, and professionals to perform effective “field triage” in medical emergency situations. In field triage, the red category refers to situations that demand a trauma center. If an improper triage is conducted and a red category victim is sent to a local walk-in clinic, the inaccurate triage will probably cost a life. If a victim has a broken bone effective triage does not send them to a Urologist, but instead to an orthopedic doctor. A heart attack victim is not triaged to a gastroenterologist. Similarly, when a child is using drugs and sexual trauma is what lies beneath, triaging that person to a counselor untrained in trauma therapy would not likely have a good outcome.

Unfortunately, children like Connor are already lost and the hole in the hearts of his family and friends will remain empty in this life. But for the children who are still alive, even those who are deep into the drug culture, there is HOPE!

For more information, please contact us at 866.729.4479 or www.capstonetreatmentcenter.com.

Other Resources:

 National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency at 601.899.5880.

National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens – teens.drugabuse.gov/parents/drugs-and-your-kids

MS Department of Mental Health Alcohol and Drug Services – dmh.ms.gov/alcohol-and-drug-services

Internet Safety Monitoring – internetsafety.com/safe-eyes-parental-control-software.php

TeenSafe Phone Monitoring – teensafe.com

Information on Spice – drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/spice-synthetic-marijuana

 Adrian-HickmonAdrian Hickmon was a football coach for 14 years. In 2001 he founded Capstone Treatment Center in Searcy, Arkansas, where he now serves as the CEO. Capstone has worked with almost 900 families from 43 states and 3 countries outside the US. Hickmon holds a PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy from Virginia Tech and is a Licensed Professional Counselor, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor. Dr. Hickmon has over 25,000 hours of therapy and supervision-of-therapy experience. He and his wife, JoAnna, have been married for 39 years; have two daughters, twin son, and three grandsons.