A presentation on drug use at Mountain View High School last week had plenty of shock value, showing graphic videos of people under the influence jumping out of windows and chewing on walls.
But the presentation did not mention parent-student communication, which a local substance abuse program director said is a key component in dealing with substance abuse, leaving parents to wonder how to communicate their newfound knowledge to their kids.
The Mountain View Police Department brought "High in Plain Sight," a video presentation about drug use by students, to the Spartan Theatre in Mountain View High School on April 3. The presentation was a response, at least in part, to a recent teen drug overdose that hospitalized a student, and comes not long after an out-of-control teen party with drug use ended in an arson fire.
Officer Ron Cooper, the police department's school resource officer, explained the appearance, slang and side effects of a slew of drugs, including synthetic marijuana, "bath salts" and ecstasy.
"Ecstasy will fry your brain cells," said Cooper, explaining that the use of the psychedelic drug MDMA, or ecstasy, has a negative impact on brain activity. Cooper said just one pill of ecstasy can cause brain damage.
Videos in the presentation included a clip of two men smoking "spice," a synthetic form of marijuana, and subsequently breaking a window and falling out of the room. Another video showed three people on ecstasy chewing on their lips and gnawing on the side of a wall.
Cooper went on to inform parents about a homemade version of morphine known as Krokodil, a drug often used as an alternative to heroin. The drug was popularized in Russia, and there was a reported use of Krokodil in Arizona, but there have been no cases in California. Sometimes referred to as a "flesh-eating" drug, the presentation included graphic imagery of people addicted to Krokodil with severe skin and muscle damage.
During the question-and-answer session, parents said they felt more informed about the illegal drugs in circulation, but wanted to know more about what they could do.
"How do we combat this?" one parent asked. Some parents wanted to expose their children directly to the videos and information in the presentation, while others stressed the importance of communicating with their children.
The key is for parents to create an open and honest dialogue with their kids about drugs, according to Veronica Foster, program director for the substance abuse treatment and prevention program at the Community Health Awareness Council (CHAC) in Mountain View.
Foster said parents have to have a plan for what they want to say and do when they confront their children about drugs and alcohol, and they need to know the facts, not scare tactics, about the drugs they discuss if they want to be taken seriously.
"Kids today are extremely intelligent, they can look this stuff up," Foster said.
The plan should also include a decisive message that the parents want to give their kids, and make it clear where they stand on the use of drugs and alcohol.
Although it might be good for parents to know about some of the hardcore or "designer" drugs out on the market, Foster said the take-home message should not be that their kids are at risk of taking bath salts. Parents should be more worried about the more commonly abused substances: marijuana, alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs.
Foster said it's important for parents to also avoid being reactive. One of the videos in the presentation showed a mother that discovered her child had drugs delivered to their home, and immediately took them in to the police.
"Don't go straight to reactivity," Foster said. "Parents need to investigate. After gathering the facts, find out if they need a therapist or substance abuse specialist."
Near the end of the presentation, Cooper suggested that parents look through the messages on their children's cellphones to see if they are taking drugs. "Look at your teen's cellphone. Look at it! It's your phone plan," Cooper said.
Foster said that if parents want to teach their children to be open and honest about possible substance abuse, spying on their cellphones and snooping around for information will not help, and teens will feel betrayed.
"If you're going to do that, be ready for the repercussions," Foster said.
Although a number of parents at the presentation repeated the mantra, "You are their parent, not their friend," Foster said it's easy to take that too far.
"You don't want to become the police, you want to be their parent," Foster said. "Kids are more likely to open up if you express appreciation and confidence. It's the only way you're going to get to the heart of the subject."