Adolescents, Young Adults, Illicit Drugs, Alcohol, Gambling and Tobacco. Keeping our kids alive.

Sometime kids from good homes get caught up in these soul destroying monsters. Great parents and good kids can find themselves in this world. The world of addiction. Illicit drugs, gambling, alcohol, tobacco.

Throughout my career I have seen how addiction has ruined lives, not only the person addicted but their friends and families as well.

I was working in emergency many years ago and an attractive young girl came in. She had recently started smoking heroin. I strongly advised her against going down that path. I often think of her and wonder what became of her and hope she hadn’t ended up ruing her life through drug addiction. There was so much to live for and I hope she is ok.

I worry about the normality perception young people have about drugs.

I feel as a society we have lost the battle with drugs. I have seen a shift over the past 10-15 years in the attitude of people towards drugs which I believe, poorly categorised as recreational or party drugs. The name itself promotes drug use as something fun and pleasurable. I used to vehemently be against any form of legalisation or drug testing at festivals and decriminalisation. My concern being it gives a message of condoning drug taking, that it normalised it in the eye of the law. That kids would think if it’s legal it’s ok. I still worry about that aspect but believe we need to review this.

Drugs taken randomly and for self medicating are not ok!

The reason drug companies vigorously test medications for 10 years or more before release is to ensure its safe for humans of different sizes, culture and ages to take minimising any adverse effects. It is of great concern to me that young people take drugs made in unsterile conditions and with unknown products. What may not effect their friend or, friend of friend, or, friend of friend of a friend, could react adversely in their body.

The influx of drugs and its normalisation amongst teenagers and young adults is giving a false sense of security and putting our kids at risk of permanent disabilities and ultimately killing them, causing devastation to families and friends who live are left to live on forever with the grief. A young person who has been convinced drug use of such ‘recreational’ drugs run a minimal risk, when not true. Each time a drug from a clandestine laboratory is ingested, smoked, inhaled or injected, these young people with their full lives ahead of them are playing Russian roulette with their lives as they know it right at that moment. It’s scary. As a parent it scares me this attitude of youth.

The most common used illicit drug in Australia is cannabis and most common form of cannabis used in Australia is marijuana .

https://adf.org.au/drug-facts/cannabis/

Cannabis is seen as a ‘natural’ substance by many users. Research has shown long term use of cannabis has been linked with anxiety and depression and how clearly you think. It can have a permanent Adverse effect on the developing brains of young peoples cognition. Heavy use can affect your memory, however as stated in website above from the Alcohol and drug foundation of Australia states, ‘There is no safe level of drug use. Use of any drug always carries some risk. It’s important to be careful when taking any type of drug.

Cannabis effects every individual differently. Even the same person may have a different experience on separate occasions or over the course of their life. Some of the factors that influence these differences appear to be:

  • Size, weight and health
  • Whether the person is used to taking it
  • Whether other drugs are taken around the same time
  • The amount taken
  • The strength of the drug
  • Expectations of consuming cannabis
  • The environment of the individual
  • The individual’s personality

The effects of cannabis vary between people, and may even be different for the same person at different times. Some people report feelings of relaxation and euphoria while other people report experiences of anxiety and paranoia.’

A 2002, 2004-2005 study showed it may be used to help cope with social problems such as depression and anxiety were not necessarily caused by cannabis. Marijuana is often used to mask or self medicated existing depressive or anxiety related mental health disorders and can exacerbate the underlying condition. Heavy cannabis use can also increase the risk of paranoia, hallucinations and psychosis. However more recent study in 2014 concluded using cannabis places a moderate risk of an individual developing depression.

A user of cannabis doubles their probability of developing psychosis such as schizophrenia.

Of course those people prescribing to the ‘it’s a natural substance theory’ may argue, it’s just the straight boring people wanting to see the bad in weed who pull on these statements in a debate, but it rarely happens and so they justify their usage.

https://ndarc.med.unsw.edu.au/blog/does-cannabis-cause-mental-illness

 

It’s all good whilst it’s all good but when it turns to shit it’s shit. Schizophrenia is not a pleasant mental illness and increasing your possible risk of triggering such an illness is crazy in itself I would argue. Who would knowingly risk triggering schizophrenia or psychosis.

It’s that old saying, people don’t believe it will happen to them. However even if you subscribed to this thought process, my issue with cannabis use it that it’s the precursor to trying more potent and higher risk addictive health effecting drugs. Teenagers first exposed to cannabis is like dipping your toe in the water. It’s making that decision to try a drug, crossing that boundary from innocence and abstinence around drugs to dabbling, metaphorically testing the waters. Quite often once that first decision is taken to cross that boundary the next is not as big a decision. Once cannabis is used and the young person feels nothing ‘bad’ or adverse happened to them, it psychologically makes them more game to experiment with other drugs such as amphetamines

MDMA colloquially known as ecstasy. Ecstasy causes the hyper stimulation of seratonin, dopamine production and receptors. I read a study that suggested hyper stimulation could result in the breakdown of functionality of the receptors. Once these become broken it potentially has the effect of preventing a person from feeling happy due to the bodies incapacity to naturally produce adequate feel good chemicals, so therefore living constantly in a state of unhappiness or sub- optimal happiness. Our bodies are not unbreakable. The dopamine receptors were not designed by Mother Nature to be hyper stimulated by mood enhancing drugs. And put simply, once broken it can be to late. Studies have shown that even after ceasing MDMA damage to memory and the seratonin and dopamine production and receptors may be irreversible.

The left is a normal monkey brain, the middle and right panels indicate loss of serotonin containing nerve endings after MDMA exposure.

I feel people have a false sense of security with the notion of, stacks of people take it and nothing happens to them. If particular drugs are not causing immediate heart failure or neurological devastation through stroke or other nerve destruction or malfunction it may be causing hidden deficits that may be accumulative or causing insidious acquired brain injuries. An example of this can be seen in the above image. After 7 years of MDMA use the serotonin containing nerve endings have not recovered and are shown in fewer numbers.

Crystal methamphetamine (MA) is a potent psycho-stimulant that is increasingly used worldwide. It is highly addictive, is often made in clandestine laboratories, and can cause serious health issues in adults.

 Because the pleasurable effect of METH disappears before the drug concentration in the blood falls significantly, users try to maintain the high by taking more of the drug, and are likely to have overdose, vascular complications, and even mortality.

There is sufficient evidence that Methamphetamine can have irreversible adverse and potentially fatal effects on the cardio vascular systems cocaine is also known to have adverse cardio vascular effects.

Milroy, Christopher & Kepron, Charis & Parai, Jacqueline. (2018). Histologic Changes In Recreational Drug Misuse. Academic Forensic Pathology. 8. 653-691. 10.1177/1925362118797740.

I read some research articles writing this blog. As a side note; – animals being used as lab specimens where they are injected and subjected to sometimes tortuous actions in the race for scientific evidence was disturbing to read. I not only read about what rats, dogs and monkeys have been subjected to in some of these research articles above but others I’ve also read about animal in the persue of evidence based studies in resilience in the view of hope and hoplesness. It does make me question the need for scientific evidence in some areas and whether it’s absolute necessity to gain that evidence when animals need to be used and undergo such treatments. I question is it humane to do these things to other creatures that we share this earth with who have no power to be a willing participant or not. We have seen inhumane experiments done on humans throughout history and shocked and horrified by them. How does what we are doing in labs to these animals differ I find myself asking my ethical and moral code. To some degree this does not sit well with me and I found what the animals were subjected to very confronting to read about.

It’s clear the evidence, despite my reservations about animal testing, is telling us these drugs are harmful to our wellbeing, physically and mentally particularly long term. The decision adolescencents and young adults choosing to experiment with these drugs with varying addictive consequences are having insidious if not catastrophic long term harmful effects, thus the controversy decriminalisation, or at the very least pill testing at festivals has caused amongst various experts and society in general.

My concern is our children are dying.

This was taken from the Herald Sun article 17.09.2018, Question mark hovers over ‘tragic’ music festival deaths in response to deaths related to drug use at NSW festivals

‘While the Australian Bureau of Statistics provides data on the number of people who have died from drug-related incidents, it doesn’t highlight how many of these occured at large-scale public events. This means health experts lobbying for change are forced to rely on media reports, which – while not uncommon – may not reflect the total number of deaths.

Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation president Dr Alex Wodak said it is a shame the federal government doesn’t provide readily-available statistics on the number of people who have died from overdoses at local music festivals. He said a lack of objective data is stifling debate and good policy.

“Australia lacks an authoritative database on deaths from proven drug-use of people attending youth music events,” he said. “One of the prices of that lack of robust data is poor policy. It’s really tragic. These are healthy young people and these are lives that should never be lost.” ‘

A following Herald Sun article 23.02.2019 in response to this Festivals with potential for a drug death deemed ‘high risk’ stated

14 festivals have been listed as high risk in relation to deaths have had new licensing schemes imposed. This has been imposed to ensure they have appropriate safety arrangements in place, and can comply with the new (New South Wales -NSW) licensing scheme.”

The festivals deemed high risk are:

• Ultra Australia

• Laneway Festival

• Defqon.1

• Days Like This

• Transmission

• Fomo

• Up Down

• Electric Gardens

• Hardcore Till I Die

• Subsonic

• This That

• Knockout Games of Destiny

• Lost Paradise

• Rolling Loud

Most deaths from drugs occur at home according to the first article. Closing down festivals is not necessarily the answer. If there are and this is just an example, 80 percent of the crowd attending a festival taking drugs then that 80 percent are likely to be using drugs despite if they are at the festival that weekend or elsewhere. The fact is they are using drugs.

So how do we prevent our healthy young kids from losing their lives to drugs?

Over the past 15 years or so, I believe I have seen a shift from teenagers and young adults shifting from alcohol consumption as their form of ‘drug’ for a good night out to the use of ‘recreational drugs’ for a good night out. Cost and affordability may have contributed to this shift. It’s often cheaper for people to take drugs than drink alcohol for a Saturday night social night out.

In the years between my eldest child starting secondary school in 2001 and completing in 2007 to my youngest child attending secondary school from 2010-2016 I saw a significant swing towards drug acceptance. Facebook party invitations went from, please respect this is a residential address and no alcohol to be brought to the premises to please respect this is a residential address and no drugs are to be brought to the premises.

Where I worried about my children drinking underage and becoming intoxicated I was to become worried as to if my child was being exposed to and offered drugs. Both alcohol and drugs have potential risks and categorised as drugs but if my child said what should I do, get myself pissed tonight or get off my face on drugs, I prefer if they felt the need for either, they chose alcohol. Sad to say that for many this is the only way to have a good night out.

At least alcohol is made in sterile and under government controlled situations where as illicit drugs are made in clandestine labs with a myriad of unknown chemicals, that goodness knows what harm they could be placed in.

I think where drugs like amphetamines were taken by the out of the ‘mainstream kids in the early to mid 2000’s, I now think it affects kids’ from so called ‘mainstream families’. Non of us are immune to our kids getting engulfed by the tantalising lure of drugs. Some parents may argue their children have never tried drugs but I think many may be a little naive or not wanting to really face the truth. Perhaps they are right and I do believe not every kids needs to try drugs however I feel more of our kids are dabbling in drugs than we care to know.

Interestingly contrary to what I think, these are the key findings in this Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report.

Key findings

  • While tobacco smoking and illicit drug use is declining among young people, the consumption of alcohol at risky levels remains high.
  • The age of initiation increased between 1995 to 2016 for tobacco smoking (from 14.2 to 16.3) and alcohol consumption (from 14.8 to 16.1).
  • The daily smoking rate halved between 2001 and 2016 for both males (24.5% to 12.3%) and females (23.5% to 10.8%) aged 18 to 24.
  • Among smokers aged 18–24, the average number of cigarettes smoked per week declined from 84 in 2013 to 68 in 2016.
  • In 2016, 42% of young adults aged 18–24 exceeded the single occasion risk guidelines by consuming on average more than four standard drinks on one occasion.
  • In 2016, 15.3% of young adults aged 18–24 consumed more than 11 standard drinks on one occasion.
  • There has been a reduction in the proportion of young adults aged 18 to 24 who have experimented with illicit drugs (from 37.1% in 2001 to 28.2% in 2016).

https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/alcohol/alcohol-tobacco-other-drugs-australia/contents/priority-populations/young-people

This was an interesting report to read. Because it doesn’t feel this way as a parent. It feels like drugs are everywhere. My kids report that they are as well. That drugs are very accessible and commonly used in their age groups 21-28 years of age.

I struggle with the saying, Those kids are a credit to you because I think even the loving and well engaged parents can lose the battle with trying to steer their kids from temptations of drugs, alcohol, tobacco and gambling. Parents who have squeaky clean young adults are the lucky ones, not necessarily the good parents. Plenty good parents children fall into the trap of allurement.

The gambling tv advertisement target young males. I think it’s irresponsible advertising and that our government should be restricting such advertisement.

If young adults get swept up into these temptations and the perils of that lifestyle, does that mean you are a bad parent? Not necessarily but the, those kids are a credit to you comment implies that. If you have polite, well groomed, clean skin kids doing all the right things then I think we should consider ourselves blessed rather than tap ourselves on the back with some superiority over parents whose children have made some poorer choices in their lives, especially before their prefrontal cortex has ceased developing, reaching maturity around age 25.

It’s these reasons where I think, given drugs, gambling and other experimentation and addictions can come to roost in any home, there should be more robust discussion around how as a society we are going to keep our young otherwise healthy kids alive. Or look at why kids are suffering depression, anxiety or poor resilience to modern life that they are inclined to self medicate with drugs or other mood enhancers to make their lives feel more worthy or enjoyable, and address these issues and how to navigate peer group pressure when faced with illicit drugs.

I now am starting to believe decriminalisation of drug possession in small amounts should be considered as a starting point. Giving young kids criminal records will not help their futures when they hopefully have worked through and survived their age of experimenting with drugs and trying to gain employment in their chosen careers. That will only place a further burden on welfare groups as employees will look poorly on any person with a conviction and police record.

Young people are clearly willing to risk criminal convictions for the allure of illicit drug experimentation. Their ability to reason and make mature decision around consequences for actions not yet fully developed.

Pill testing is another topic for debate. And I don’t have all the answers. It’s such a complex area with so many variants.

Over my 35 year career working in public city hospitals I have cared for thousands of young people that use drugs. I worked in the emergency department for 11 years and on many occasions saw young peoples overdoses reversed, literally bringing them back from the dead. I have witnessed lives destroyed as a result of drug addiction or reliance. I have witnessed the heroin era in full swing and the emergence of the methamphetamine (ice) addiction.

I recently watched a David Bowie documentary. He discussed his drug addiction of the 70’s. Many of these musicians were around when Heroin was a popular drug. Heroin caused respiratory depression and overdose occurs as a result of respiratory arrest eventuating in cardiac arrest and death. Narcan, naloxine reverses the effect of heroin. It blocks the effect of opioids. https://adf.org.au/drug-facts/naloxone/

With the current opioid epidemic due to the rise in opioid prescription drug overdoses Naloxone ( Narcan) has been debated around the availability for the public for overdose reversal. It is estimated according to drug abuse.com that the opioid epidemic in America is claiming nearly 78 lives a day. The opponents say it allows opiate abusers to push their limits and the advocates say it’s saving lives. Naloxone gives people a chance of treatment and opportunity to make changes.

David Bowie discusses his addiction to drugs saying he was living on this edge where he knew he could die anytime and needed to get off drugs. He successfully did and went in to make many more albums, stating it was still surprisingly easy to create good music off drugs.

From my experience the difference particularly with heroin use as opposed to today’s ice epidemic is if you managed to not die from an overdose of heroin causing respiratory arrest then you could treat your addiction and potentially have fewer long lasting health adverse conditions.

For many heroin users hepatitis C is an ongoing health issue as a result of sharing contaminated needles. For ice addicts the long term cardiovascular effects, particularly on the heart muscle itself where irreversible damage is done to the heart muscle cells by the drug itself they often after ceasing addiction have a much shortened life expectancy. Neither of these two drugs are a good choice of drug to be addicted to. They are both highly addictive often forcing a lifestyle of self destruction. I have witnessed the monster of both addictions throughout my career. Many forced into criminality to fund their addictions and the downward spiral of that lifestyle.

I’m an advocate of Narcan availability, being our main objective is saving lives.

Whilst there is life there is hope. These are our children’s lives we are trying to save. Someone’s child.

Working as a health professional I have always viewed each individual I have cared for as someone’s child. To judge a person who is using drugs is not productive.

I have been abused by people who have been brought into emergency due to overdose in respiratory arrest who we have given Narcan to and they have sat up and been angry that we ruined their high, their money that they spent on that drug. They don’t hang around for us to explain that you were on the brink of death, that your breathing had stopped and in a few seconds so may your heart have stopped and you would of been dead if not for that Narcan. As soon as they are brought back by the reversing effects from their opioid overdose they sit up, tell us how unhappy they are with us and discharge themselves often against medical advice.

It can feel thankless for sure and at times immensely frustrating. But I would say to myself, that young adult is someone’s child. Someone’s son or daughter and if that was my child, I would want someone to help them, save them. Whilst there is life there is hope. A chance for rehabilitation or at the very least for a child who accidentally took a wrong pill that they can live and hopefully see that life of drugs is not for them. That life is more precious than to risk dying.

Recently I heard of a story, where a young 21 year old girl left home 2 days prior to travel Europe. In Germany on her second night, she took a pill and went into cardiac arrest and died. Wouldn’t you want to think that any health professional that went to her aid that night did everything they could to save her. Wouldn’t you want to think that had she had access to something that could save her life that she did. Perhaps for this girl she was the unlucky young healthy adult we are talking about and nothing may have saved her even if it was available. And in her case she unfortunately did die. She wasn’t from a ‘bad’ home, she was intelligent and generally an average good kid, and mostly she was loved. She was brought home to her mother in a coffin. Every parents nightmare is to bury their own child. And from a preventable cause that makes the pain even more.

I believe we’ve lost the battle with drugs. We are never going to eradicate them. Every decision and thought process I have on drugs is to prevent one more unnecessary death of a young person, one less destruction of a healthy life and one less family affected by addiction or accidental death. My aim is to keep our children alive and discussion focussed around this.

One less person or family ruined by the monster if addiction. One less life stolen. This could be you or your child. None of us are immune.

Additonal Notes 22:04:2019

I recently read an article in The Age newspaper dated 11.04.2019 of an Australian doctor, who was attacked at his surgery by a disgruntled patient of another doctor who pracitsed there. It’s a fascinating story of a remarkable man,  Dr Andrew Taylor. Andrew Taylor who practises pharmacotherapy which helps drug dependant patients was shot in the hip, legs, shoulder, lower stomach and backside by Zuber Vukovic,46, in 1997 because he was angry that his workers and Traffic Accident Commission (TAC) injury compensation was less than he anticipated by over six million dollars. Zuber had already borrowed more than the $350,000 awarded from his relatives. Zuber was well know to clinic but Dr Taylor was not his intented victim as he had not been his treating  physician. His regular physician was on sabatical leave at the time. After shooting Dr Taylor Zuber layed down beside him and shot himself. Despite this Andrew Taylor works in a practice in Frankston, an area known for drug addiction. He says, “one in three of our patients with drug issues have done jail time, and because they can’t get a job they commit more crime.” This supports my thoughts on decriminising certain drugs. He says, “We have 1000 heroin addicts in our clinic and we know opiate substitutes work. These addicts can be managed and are not a danger to our community. It’s the Methamphetamine that is driving this craziness. They would be better off in jail where their violence can be managed and they can detox.”

Andrew suggests, drug addicts who commit minor offences should be put in a security facility for six weeks to break the cycle without criminal  conviction and if they continue to offend the should be jailed.

He says, “Pain specialists were using the same six products for chronic conditions as for short-term intense pain. You take opiates for a year and your tolerance grows and you become addicted. You have to manage it and learn to live as normal as possible with the pain” He believes big pharmacy companies are he reason for the opiate prescribed drug addiction.

He concerned about the growth of illegal firearms in the area. Dr Taylor said, “one patient came in and he remarked how he had been raided that morning by police looking for firearms”. He said the guy had a laser dot on his chest as the police aimed a gun at him and he seemed perfectly relaxed whilst telling Dr Taylor of this.

Years prior to this incident he had conducted a review of the NSW ambulance service which concluded that the state-of-the-art trauma centres were not a great priority because shootings were a rarity. He has since changed his mind. The article explains his thoughts why this is so.

https://www.google.com.au/amp/s/amp.theage.com.au/national/victoria/you-ve-killed-me-can-i-please-phone-my-family-a-story-of-survival-20190409-p51cdv.html

In 2014 a Magistrate if The Children’s Court Of Victoria Australia, Jennifer Bowles was awarded a Churchill Scholarship to review options for residential therapeutic treatment for young people suffering substance abuse/mental illness – New Zealand, UK, Sweden. Her study concluded successful facilities needed to be welcoming and therapeutic, well located with highly qualified staff and effective aftercare. She recommended legislation to be changed to enable orders for compulsory assessment to therapeutic facilities. This is along similar lines to Andrews views. She also recommended a youth drug court and a crossover list to coordinate the prices of dealing with the many young people subject to both crimson and child protection proceedings be established in the children’s court.

https://www.churchilltrust.com.au/fellows/detail/3887/Jennifer+Bowles%20

This is yet to be done.

 

Love Lucy x

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