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Q & A with Steve Pasierb, CEO, The Partnership at Drugfree.org

Steve Pasierb is President and CEO of The Partnership at Drugfree.org. In this role, he leads a research-based, national nonprofit whose mission is to help parents prevent, intervene in and find treatment for drug and alcohol use by their children. He is a frequent commentator for the national and local news media on drug safety issues, including the changing landscape of drug use in America.

Be Smart. Be Well. sat down with Steve Pasierb to discuss drug use among young people and what parents can do to keep their kids safe from drug use and abuse. Watch the video interview above or read the transcript below.

To learn more about childhood obesity visit Be Smart. Be Well. Drug Safety.

What prescription drugs are being abused by young people and why?

Steve Pasierb: You know, we did a lot of research around the country with kids, in all different kinds of communities. And what we’ve found are kids are coming to prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse with really very specific reasons. They’ll look at a drug like Vicodin say, well, that’s a get-high drug. They’ll look at cough medicine and say it’s a get-high drug. They’ll look at Ritalin and say, very tactical, helps me in school. I don’t use that to get high, that’s a good get-better-grade drug.

They used to look at cigarettes as a way to cope with the stresses and pressures of their lives. So they’re looking at all these products very tactically. Some are to get high, some are to deal with stress and depression and things like that in their own lives. And some of them are very tactical, make me do better at school. So kids bring a very sophisticated usage approach to this. It’s not just as simple as they’re abusing prescription drugs to go out and get wrecked.

What over the counter drugs are most abused by teens and young adults?

Steve Pasierb: What kids are looking for is that active ingredient in cough medicines, dextromethorphan, that gives them that drunk, dreamy, disassociated kind of feeling, that they can’t get because they can’t go in a liquor store and buy beer, so they go into the drugstore and pick up some over-the-counter cough and cold medicines.

Many kids, though, become dependent on it. It’s very easy to pick-up a bottle of cough medicine on your way home after school. You know, it’s about three dollars, pop in to the drugstore, pick it up, nobody has any questions, you chug it down.

It has gone from a fringe behavior to more mainstream. Again, 1 in 10 kids in America have abused cough medicine.

How do young people rationalize the dangers of taking these drugs?

Steve Pasierb: It’s perfectly safe, right? ‘Cause it’s FDA approved, it’s made in the lab, the government wouldn’t let it be sold, doctors wouldn’t prescribe it if it’s dangerous. Well, a doctor prescribes it for you because he understands who you are, how much you weigh, what other drugs you’re on. As a kid, you’re playing a form of Russian roulette. Yeah, you’re getting better grades and you feel like you’re studying better but you’re also playing Russian roulette.

What are the main challenges of prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse that need to be addressed by our society?

Steve Pasierb: I think we’ve tended to take a view of substance abuse, the drug issue, everyone had defined it is not any one thing that heroin is a problem or marijuana is a problem or prescription drugs are a problem. But what is this behavior called drugging? Why do you feel the need to go out to on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night and get wrecked? Why do you feel the need to maybe use some of these things very tactically to make yourself feel better, to sleep, to study? Those are gonna be the big issues going forward because that seems to be more and more their behavior.

It isn’t, you know, as it was in the 1970s. It was to be counterculture or something like that or to go out and, and simply party. It, the drug landscape has become more sophisticated, the number of products that, that young people and even a lot of adults, can abuse would be very different and while drug use has gone down, smoking ways have gone, underage drinking have gone down. The issue is still there and it’s, it’s, it’s kind of lost its depth and now has breadth, if you will. So it’s gonna continue to be something in society.

As a parent, do I really have the power to affect my kid’s behavior about drugs?

Steve Pasierb: When you do the teen research, what you find is, right now, 31 percent of kids say they learn a lot at home about the drug issue. So, you’ve got one of the most powerful things, parents, just engaging in these conversations, not about the single big scary drug talk, but, hey, what’s going on in your life? Hey, I hear there’s, you know, some things going on, you know, somebody got arrested, what do you think about that? Easy ways into the conversation.

When you do that, and you do that through middle school and through high school, your kid knows where you stand and they’re half as likely to use. It’s an amazing thing and it’s, you know, it’s almost like the Home Depot, you can do it, we can help. There is very simple ways to have these conversations.

What is the right age to talk with your kid about drugs, and how do I go about it?

Steve Pasierb: Average age of first drug use in America is about 13-and-a-half years old. Most parents would say it’s 15, 16 or 17. It was when they were in high school. It’s moved younger. So, what we say to parents is really have an age-sensitive conversation, again, not a big drug talk.

Your kid is in middle school. What are you hearing in school? What’s going on? Who are your friends? Who are the good kids? Who are the bad kids? Who are the bullies? That gets you in and, you know, you’ll find that some of these things come up. And then as your kid ages, ratchet up the specifity of the conversation. You got a high school kid and Ecstasy has just gone up 71 percent, you, and you, what have you heard about this Ecstasy drug? Anybody in school talk about it? I mean, you can, you’re not giving them a lecture on the harms of Ecstasy, you’re having a conversation. The net of the conversation to your kid is, I am worried about this and this isn’t really an acceptable thing in our lives and our family. That’s incredibly powerful, but it’s not a lecture, it’s not a threat, it’s not any of those things.

What’s something tangible that parents can do to safeguard their kids?

Steve Pasierb: You have to understand, you may have medications in your house or, or put away in the back of your medicine cabinet that really don’t belong there. Um, what we hear from parents over and over again is I hurt my shoulder, I got a prescription, I use two of them. It was very expensive. I put the rest of the bottle in the medicine cabinet and I’ve forgotten about it for the last year. So educate, communicate, safeguard, maybe some of those, those drugs should be disposed of or put away in the family safe for that someday.

To learn more about drug safety, visit Be Smart. Be Well. Drug Safety.

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