This is a guest post by Robin Miller, MD MHS.
Just over a week ago we lost a family friend to a heroin overdose. A drug that was rarely found in the mainstream when I was growing up is now extremely common in high schools, Middle American neighborhoods and even Wall Street. We have a major epidemic going on and it is out of control. This one will eventually touch each and every one of us if we do not get a handle on it.
The use of heroin is being fueled by the exploding abuse of prescription pain medications such as Vicodan, Percocet and Oxycontin. The medical establishment has gotten wise to this and has made it more difficult to get these medications by prescription. People who have become hooked on them are now finding they are expensive to buy on the street. They turn to heroin, which is a much cheaper alternative. Unfortunately, heroin is laced with many other things. Most recently a very powerful drug called Fentanyl has been added resulting in multiple deaths from accidental overdoses.
We are losing our youth to this horrible epidemic. It is frightening and incredibly tragic. What can we do to turn this around?
Awareness is the first step. We need to recognize that this is a problem for all of us. Then we need to look at the bigger picture. Why are our children turning to drugs in the first place? There are many theories out there. The one that seems most plausible to me is that our society has become very complicated. Perfection is being paraded across our media screens. We have instant critiques on social media and for many of us our lives seem to be moving fast and out of control. This causes people to numb out and turn to things such as food, medication, and alcohol and of course, drugs.
As a parent, what can you do?
• I see parents out with their children more often than not, totally focused on their cell phones. It is disheartening. Get your children outside. Step away from your phones. Step away from your computers and be there to have fun and speak with your children, and when they talk to you, listen.
• Eat healthy. It is essential for mental health that we eat a healthy diet. Fruits, vegetables, lean protein and avoidance of processed foods are a must. Children follow by example. It is important that we model good behavior for our kids. When they see you stress eating, they will stress eat. When they see you eating healthy, they will eat healthy.
• Exercise. It boosts endorphins (those feel good chemicals) and teaches children healthy habits. It also is an important tool for handling stress.
• Most importantly, love your children and help them to understand that perfection is an illusion. It does not exist. They do not need to be the star on the soccer team or a Harvard graduate to deserve your approval. They need to know that they are worthy of being loved regardless of what they achieve. The key is that they realize they are enough.
We all fall and we all fail. Be there to listen and nurture and console, but let them fail. This is how we learn.
There is no guarantee in life. And, drug abuse can occur in any family. Believe me, I know. However, if we are able to have children who learn how to cope with anxiety and fear in healthy ways and who feel loved and secure, I think that we will see many of the problems start to diminish. It is time as individuals that we take control and these simple steps can be very powerful.
Start today. All of our children and the health of our society depend on it.
Dr. Miller is board-certified in Internal Medicine, is a member of the American College of Physicians, Oregon Medical Association and Jackson County Medical Association and is widely published. Her most recent book is “The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife and Beyond: A No-Nonsense Approach to Staying Healthy After 50”. Dr. Miller is currently featured on Podcasts at STR8 UP, Health Talk for Teens. You can also see her Monday and Tuesday nights at 6 PM on Newschannel 5 KOBI-NBC where she is the medical expert for “Doctors on Call” and “Focus on Health.”Also check out her columns in the Grants Pass Daily Courier and Lifescript.com. Her blogs can be found at smartwomanshealth.com.