October is the month for Halloween — and the nation's biggest anti-drug efforts.
Here's what you may want to note on your family calendar:
National Drug Facts Week
October 31 is the date the National Institute on Drug Abuse launches its second annual National Drug Facts Week. Use it as a chance to talk to your kids about the many myths and facts surrounding illicit substances. One big myth: Marijuana is safe for all. "We have data that shows that out of every 100 adults who try it, nine will become addicted," says NIDA spokesman Carol Krause. "We don't know what it does to the developing brain…[But] we want our kids to be the absolute best that they can be." For more information about drugs, visit NIDA's website.
Encourage your kids to enter anti-drug contests this month. Two big ones:
MusiCares and Grammy Foundation Teen Substance Abuse Awareness through Music Contest. The winner, who will be announced during National Drug Facts Week, will go to the Grammy Award rehearsals in January. Kids ages 14 through 18 can enter by composing or creating an original song or music video that encourages and celebrates a healthy lifestyle or accurately depicts a story about drug abuse. For more details about the contest, which ends Oct. 10, click here.
Red Ribbon Week Contest. In honor of the 26th annual Red Ribbon Week (Oct. 23-31), the National Family Partnership and the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration are holding a contest called "It's Up to Me to Be Drug Free." Students in kindergarten through 12th grade can enter by decorating their homes with their parents. Mailboxes, front doors, and fences are fair game. They just need to include the words "It's up to me to be drug free." To enter, click here. Parents can also upload photos to www.redribbon.org or to www.facebook.com/RedRibbonWeek. Then family and friends can vote Nov. 1-15. The winner is the picture that gets the most votes. That child's school wins $1,000.
This year Red Ribbon Week's organizers are trying to get kids to take responsibility for being drug free. "It's all about message delivery," says Peggy Sapp, NFP's volunteer president. "How do you deliver messages really effectively so someone hears and gets it?"
Helpline for parents
Fortunately, parents whose kids use illicit substances can turn to many groups for help. Since April, the nonprofit Partnership at Drugfree.org has been running a free helpline from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. eastern time. "We don't conduct any kind of therapy over the phone. We lend an ear, and we're empathetic," says licensed clinical social worker Johanna Bos, the lead parent support specialist there. "There was a real outcry for place where parents could go, not only the actual [drug] user."
The 855-DRUGFREE service, designed for parents of kids ages 11 and up, helps moms and dads "develop a plan for how to help their child," says Bos. "Your child can be 28 years old, and you're still the parent. We really don't turn anyone away even though we're geared toward adolescents."
The most frequent questions? "'How do I talk to my kids about this?' 'How do I talk to my kids about this?' 'I found such and such in their room?' Or, 'I know they came home high," says Bos. "Their fear is that their child will leave home or end up in a big fight. We talk about ways to communicate with them. It's involving them in the conversation, respecting that they have a point of view, empathy, understanding, listening to one another's side, letting them know that they are ultimately responsible for their decisions. Are they prepared to deal with those consequences?"
Some tips for parents:
Be honest. "You don't agree with their behaviors, you don't condone their behaviors," says Bos. "If they don't make the right decisions, you still love them."
Reinforce boundaries. "You are the parent," says Fred Muench, associate director of research for the Partnership. "You can reinforce rules. At the same time, you can respect your child." Kids can't just stay holed up. "They can't stay in their room with the door locked 12 hours a day," says Bos.
Be aware. Some kids take money out of their parents accounts or pocketbooks.
Consider safety. "Are there younger children in the house?" says Muench. "Is your safety compromised?" Sometimes parents say, "I sleep with a weapon under my bed because I don't know if my kid is going to come in, completely out of his mind, and hurt me," he says. "We talk about safety planning."
Learn about treatment costs. Many parents worry about being unable to afford addiction treatment. But every state offers aid-funded programs. "Often the child is the one who has to apply to Medicaid or sate insurance but is too actively using to go to the Medicaid office and get it done," says Muench.
Reach out for help — for you, not just your child. Many helplines target users, but the Partnership hotline helps moms and dads. "There's a lot of stigma and shame attached when a parent finds out their child is using," says Bos. The Partnership does not endorse any particular treatment facility or particular program. Instead, it uses the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's facility locator. "We do try to look at the differences in a level of care," says Muench. "Somebody who is using opioids every day is going to require different treatment from a kid who has smoked pot a couple of times."
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