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Teens and Drug Use - What You Need to Know Now

How can you help your teen steer clear of drugs?  How can you spot possible drug use?  What should you do if you child is using drugs?
Teens and Drug Use - What You Need to Know Now
Featured Speaker:
Darrin Privett, MD
Dr. Darrin Privett is an emergency room physician at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital.

Melanie Cole : How can you help your teen steer clear of drugs and how do you as a parent spot possible drug use? Welcome to Its Your Health Radio with Henry Mayo Newhall hospital. I'm Melanie Cole and joining me today is Dr. Darrin Privett. He's an emergency room physician at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. Dr. Privett. It's always such a pleasure to have you on and you're such a wealth of knowledge. I wanna start before we get into our teens and spotting things in our teens, we heard recently about the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, put out a statement about a national and local trend of illicit drugs and counterfit pills that were being that had like illegally manufactured fentanyl and other stimulant contaminants added to them that were causing life threatening complications. Can you speak about what's going on with that?

Dr. Darrin Privett: Well, I think that's why, well, before I start, it's always a pleasure to be back. I'm grateful for this opportunity, drug awareness and drug abuse is a passion of mine. And I'm grateful to be in involved in this discussion here. And you're right. We've seen that in Los Angeles County, and that's why it's so important that we're having this podcast. And we're continue to talk about the dangers of drug abuse, because quite frankly, you do not know. What is in the different substances that our children and our teenagers are exposed to.

And I think that's why we need sound out the warning cry that we have to be careful because we've seen a increased use of abuse and also death with those who have used drugs because of these synthetic drugs and specifically fentanyl. Fentanyl is 80 times stronger than morphine. And so when you include that within heroin or even laced with marijuana it can cause a significant overwhelming synergistic effect. Of utilizing these underlying drugs and unbeknownst to the user or the abuser.

It can cause a profound effect in even death. And we've seen a spike of drug overdoses and it largely it's because of the introduction of these synthetic drugs, specifically fentanyl. And so it's so important right now that we are talking about this. We're sending out this huge red flag that. We need to be aware of this. This is very dangerous. And we've seen a spike of this in Los Angeles County.

Melanie Cole : How scary. Now as a result of COVID, when people were locked down all this, but then our kids were out of school, there was an increased, I mean, there's really a mental health epidemic going on in this country. And not only with our teens, of course, but certainly with them. How have you seen this intersection of substance use disorder and what we've been experiencing the last couple of years, what have you seen an increase in? Is it mostly been alcohol? You mentioned fentanyl. I mean, obviously marijuana's a big deal cause it's getting legalized everywhere, but what have you seen substance use disorder mostly on the increase?

Dr. Darrin Privett: Specifically talking about teen substance use and abuse and their risks. I think since the 1990s the good news is that there has actually been a decreasing rate of abuse and also use among teenagers. Marijuana has been fairly steady and initially during COVID. And during quarantine, we did see a slight increase in patients who presented to the me room associated with drug use, drug addiction, and also different type of mental illnesses associated with that drug use. Obviously we see kids who like to experiment. They like to get involved in risky behaviors.

I think kids being on COVID away from school Most of them, weren't able to be with their friends initially. And then once kind of, parameters and regulations were loosened a little bit. We did see a little up uptick with kids involved with alcohol, with marijuana with them kind of experimenting with prescription drugs going into their parents' bathroom, where drugs are kept at. And so unfortunately kids are always gonna kind of experiment. They're curious. They somehow tend to frequently get involved in more risky behavior than they should. And we see that in the emerge room. So initially early on, it was pretty steady, about the same.

We didn't really see too much of it about a year into, with COVID. We started seeing a lot more complaints and presentations associated with drug use. Surprisingly enough, there was a recent study that did come out that said that actual alcohol use among teenagers decreased during quarantine and during COVID, we've seen the pretty steady use of marijuana. We've definitely seen an increase in teenagers who are, have been vaping and using various vape products, including with marijuana.

But overall, since the nineties, we have seen a decreased use of drug abuse and drug use among teenagers, which is a good thing. And I think that's why we have to keep on sending out this message that parents are the most important part of this equation to make sure that they're very involved in their kids' lives. And especially as healthcare providers and platforms like yours using this podcast, we have to continue to push this message out there and make sure parents are aware of all the dangers associated with substance abuse.

Melanie Cole : 100%. And we've learned a lot as you say, over the years. And one of the things that I learned from my parents was communication is the key. And I always started. With my kids about communication, about the dangers of drugs. I'm like you swallow a pill. You can't change your mind. You cannot take it back. You can't decide not to do it. And so communication is so important. However, not all kids. Feel that way or parents don't always wanna talk about it.

Let's start first with warning signs, red flags, because you mentioned vaping, Dr. Privett and vaping doesn't always have the same smell. It doesn't always linger. Can you speak about red flags for parents? What are we looking for in our teens? And even our preteens that they are possibly using alcohol or drugs?

Dr. Darrin Privett: Well, you would suspect that obviously, parents are really the only ones that know the true behaviors of their children. And so I think that's one of the first things you'll notice that there's definitely a change in their behaviors. They're doing things differently that they wouldn't normally do. They're trying to avoid any direct contact with you as a parent. They're more withdrawn, they're in their room more, doors closed not wanting to get involved in family activities or. There were normal activities that they would do definitely be aware of an obvious change in some type of behavior in your child.

And that is a big red flag that there is something going on with your child. And the key is to make sure that you, as you mentioned, communication and you're very inquisitive of what's going on in your child's life and you make it, you can make a difference. Typically the biggest impact that can happen obviously in a teenager's life, especially with substance abuse is what goes on at the house. And these are the very tough and hard conversations that you absolutely have to have as a parent. And sometimes they're very uncomfortable because you don't want your children to hate you.

Teenager years can be very challenging and sometimes you have to work really hard on those relationships, but more importantly the key is to really understand that you're not your child's friend, but you're their parent and you have to protect them. You have to make sure that they're safe and they're doing the things necessary to help them continue to progress and develop and grow as healthy as they can. And that starts with communication.

Melanie Cole : It does. And you make some excellent points and not everybody is able to communicate. And we all know we've learned enough about the teenage brain over the years, haven't we Dr. Privett. That we know that ability of them to regulate impulse control and make rational decisions about stuff is not so fully developed. Right. They've got that underdeveloped frontal cortex. So communication's important. However, if we suspect then that they are doing something.

If we catch them or they come home from someplace and we know that they've been drinking or any of these things, what do you suggest is the first thing we do? Because some parents, our first reaction is to hit it hard, get mad. You know, punishments, grounding, whatever it is, but what do you suggest? You're such a knowledgeable expert. What do you want us to do as far as reacting to finding out?

Dr. Darrin Privett: You kind of brought it up first about how teenagers brains are completely fully developed yet that frontal cortex, and your right. And that's why this discussion is so important because their brain doesn't stop developing until they're around the age of 26. And so when you think about brain development and the destruction and the impact that using substances can have on that is so important. And that's why we need to have this conversation, because it affects overall growth. It affects overall development frequently affects the area of the brain that causes or that controls their ability to make decisions.

And the reward system, and that allows them to participate in more risky behaviors when that area, their brain is involved. And certainly as they grow and evolve into adulthood, too, it really does contribute to adult health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure mental illness and sleep disorders. And so if a child is involved in that type of behavior or is abusing, or you catch them using drugs, Just like we teach parents to help their children deal with emotions and anger issues. It's so important as a parent that we do not react angrily. We do first approach the situation, we're calm. We're cool.

We address the situation that we recognize our problem, and that as a parent, you approach that in love, with honesty, with open communication, that you're concerned about them, you're concerned about their health and we want to find a solution to try to help them. And that's the most important thing, because if you respond with anger, like you said, and you allow these emotions to boil over, all you're gonna do is push the child away and potentially help them justify that the reason why that they're doing what they're doing is because you might not have a good relationship with them.

And that might be a reason why they do it, or they might not have a good relationship with their friends or something else is going on in their life. So they're using these drugs to try to escape from that reality to numb them from the situation that they're in. So the most important thing that you can do is to be honest, but to be calm, to approach them with open dialogue, open communication, and most importantly, with love.

Melanie Cole : 100%, you know, I might be just one of the lucky ones cuz that's how my parents and I'm the youngest of six. So that's how they approached it. And we were sixties and seventies babies. So this was all kind of a new thing back then, but you hit the nail right on the head is that we can't react now in some instances, Dr. Privett and it's sad and it's scary for a parent. It does go a little further than trying stuff for the first time, or even saying, you know, I tried this or my friends are drinking at a party. When do we know that it's becoming a real problem? And to whom do turn?

Dr. Darrin Privett: That's so true what you just said, that most of the time, when we do talk to our children about the use of drugs, or we do catch them for their first time or have the suspicion that they are, that's usually first thing that they'll say that this is the first time this has happened. You know, I've never done this before, but the reality is, and it's been my experience, what I see in the emergency room. And I see that response or that explanation. From teenagers that there is usually a behavior behind that, that they typically have been using multiple times. And so, the key is to seek professional help.

most teenagers, most children have a pediatrician, they have a primary care physician and you might wanna reach out to them and get a professional. And that certainly will help the relationship that the parent might have with the child too, because sometimes we try to do this by ourselves. Some we might be embarrassed, we don't wanna let anybody else know what's going on. And so, that sometimes could be the worst thing that we could do because that not only affect the relationship that you have with your child.

But if you can put it in the hands of a professional, then they'll be able to know Uh, what exactly they can do for your child and the kind of treatments that are out there resources are available not only to you as a parent, but also specifically to your child.

Melanie Cole : And I think Our pediatrician in our medical home is a great place to start. And then going on from there and getting those resources, as you said, I'd like you to wrap up, you're passionate about this and obviously I am too. So I would like you to show us your passion a little here, Dr. Privett, and tell parents, listening what you'd like them to know about the dangers of these illegal substances and substance use disorder in our teens and what it can do to them later in life.

And what you've seen, we used to have, what was it Scared Straight, right. And they would do that kind of thing. But here you are an ER, physician. You are seeing this. Every single day on the front lines, tell parents what you want them to know.

Dr. Darrin Privett: First of all, this whole thing about drugs are fun. Alcohol is fun. The way that the movie projects, it, the way that the music projects it, the way that the TV projects it, the reality is, is that the high is a lie. And drug abuse drug addiction, drug use affects every segment of society. And so just because your family, you feel like you have a strong foundation with your family. You have a good family group. Your strong. You spend a lot of time with each other. You are not immune to your children or your teenagers using drugs?

No one's exempt from it. It affects all aspects of society, whether you're on the higher socioeconomic or the lowest social economic. And so the key is that make sure that you're very involved in your child's life. If you'recognize a problem with your child. More than likely the gut feeling that you have, that there's something wrong. There probably is something wrong. The key is to make sure that you communicate with your children and you spend time with them. And the whole saying about the family that eats together stays together. And that is really true.

No matter what you do, what kind of activities you do, as long as you spend quality time with each other, the likelihood that your teenager or your child is gonna do drugs is unlikely. In fact, there's a study that shows that the majority of kids who spend quality of time with their family, 50% of those are less likely to do drugs. And the take home point is that drug. Is a preventative behavior. If you have any child who is involved in using drugs, there is help. You can seek help. It is a preventative behavior. It is a preventative disease and drug addiction is treatable.

And the most important thing is to make sure that we certain circle our children with love. We reach out for help and we get them on the path that allow them to continue to be the person that you want them to be.

Melanie Cole : And we have to be good role models as well. And that works to all those aspects of life. They see us exercise, eat healthy. They're gonna follow along with our lead. And thank you so much, Dr. Privett for are all of your passion and expertise. If you need to help someone who does have a drug problem, please visit

You can also visit the free health information library at for so much great information and more podcasts, just like these. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of It's Your Health Radio. With Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. I'm Melanie Cole.