One thing Bradley DeHaven didn’t do after immersing himself in his son’s Oxycontin addiction is remain silent.
Two years ago, the Granite Bay father helped law-enforcement agents stage an elaborate drug bust to nab a larger drug dealer in a last-ditch effort to keep his 19-year-old son out of prison. His son had started using drugs at 16 and selling at 17. After the bust, the financial planner and his wife kicked their son out of their house for his continued Oxy use.
His son is now healthy, has a job and is moving on with his life.
But DeHaven, 52, didn’t pretend the trouble never happened. Instead, he wrote a book called “Defining Moments: A Suburban Father’s Journey into his Son’s Oxy Addiction.” He’s been featured in newspaper articles and on radio programs recounting the life-altering experience.
No, he definitely hasn’t kept quiet.
“I’m on a crusade to let parents know it doesn’t need to be your dirty little secret,” DeHaven said. “You’re not alone and you’re going to get through this.”
That’s the message local teen substance abuse groups want to spread in the community. Parents must not remain the silent majority, as experts say they are critical to curbing the local adolescent drug problem.
“There’s not a lot of leverage left for working with kids,” said Alan Baker, a volunteer with the Coalition for Placer Youth. “We don’t see that as a huge area (where our group) can make a difference.”
The domino that needs to be knocked down: Parents.
“Parents need to understand the role they play in their teens’ lives,” said Joanna Jullien, also with the coalition. “They need parents more than ever to hold the line for what is legal and safe. If we’re silent, then the voice of wisdom is trumped by the voice of popular culture (and their peers).”
A recent study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse suggests that tackling substance abuse early is critical to addiction prevention.
The report found that children who start drinking alcohol before the age of 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol problems than those who start after age 21. Additionally, nine out of 10 Americans who meet the medical criteria for addiction started smoking, drinking or using other drugs before age 18.
“My key take away from the study is that we can reduce the addiction rate if we can increase the age at which people ‘try’ substances,” Baker said. “It is important for parents to delay the onset of substance use as long as they can.”
While parents child-proof their homes, they often don’t teen-proof them. He urges parents to lock up medication and dispose of unused prescription pills properly.
Two years ago, the coalition and the Roseville Police Department began co-sponsoring prescription pill take-back events.
“(These) events play an important role in household drug awareness and access control,” said police spokeswoman Dee Dee Gunther. “Parents might lock up or be watchful about alcoholic beverages in the home, but forget about the dangerous drugs stored in their medicine cabinets, and in grandparents’ medicine cabinets.”
Gunther advises parents to be aware of how many pills they have and investigate immediately if pills disappear. This also applies to people who use babysitters or house sitters.
Parents should monitor their alcohol. Some well-intentioned parents think allowing their teens to experiment with alcohol under their supervision will keep their child safe, but this is a false sense of security, Baker said. Studies show that teens who drink at home are more likely to drink elsewhere — “after all, their parents condone it.” They’re also more likely to binge drink and get a DUI, he said.
Granite Bay High School teacher Kathie Sinor says that in her 18 years as a health educator, she’s learned that parents need to set clear expectations and rules for their children.
“Parents need to forget about avoidance behaviors, or being their kid’s best friend or being the popular parent,” Sinor said. “They need to be the responsible parent.”
Some parents default to remembering how they experimented with drugs during their youth and turned out OK. So they shrug off their own child’s drug or alcohol use.
“You never experienced what the kids are experiencing today,” Jullien said. “The drugs are different, they’re more intense. The peer pressure is on steroids and the cyber environment makes you feel like you cannot escape it.”
The coalition encourages parents to network with each other — and, if their family is struggling with substance abuse, to share their story instead of keeping it hidden. Jullien says parents don’t share with each other out of shame or fear of being judged.
DeHaven broke this code of silence, and encourages other parents to watch for the signs that their child may need help.
“It’s hard for Granite Bay parents, for Folsom parents, for any parent to envision their kid in that (addiction) scenario,” said DeHaven, whose son’s foray into drugs started with a prescription for Vicodin following a broken arm. “When I look back, I see all the signs I overlooked — why can’t I commit any of my son’s friends to memory? Because they were changing every week.”
The coalition also wants local teens to know something — not everyone is doing drugs or drinking alcohol, despite what they may think as they navigate a world of peer pressure and eagerness to fit in.
Forty-six percent of American high schoolers currently use addictive substances. But that means 54 percent, the majority, do not.
“Kids, for the most part, are making good decisions,” Jullien said. “So let’s support them.”
Sena Christian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.