Attendance Growing At Support Meetings For Parents Of Teen Drug Addicts
By: Elsa H. Partan
More parents of teenage opioid drug addicts on Cape Cod are stepping forward for help.
At least five new parents of teenagers between 16 and 18 years old from various Cape Cod towns have started attending meetings of Parents Supporting Parents, a weekly support group held in Mashpee.
The group was founded by Mashpee resident Lisa M. Murphy nearly three years ago for parents who have a child addicted to prescription pills like oxycodone or its cheaper, more plentiful cousin, heroin. The group has drawn more than 40 people to its meetings, coming from Mashpee, Falmouth, Sandwich, Barnstable, and Bourne as well as farther-flung places like Wareham and Harwich.
The recent increase in teenage addicts is notable, Ms. Murphy said. Since the group began gathering in October 2010,
parents have typically reported that their children are between the ages of 19 and 26. The five new cases of teen addiction got Ms. Murphy’s attention.
“The ages are getting younger,” she said. “That is what is scary. At 16 years old, their children are already addicted to opiates.”
A survey of Mashpee students in November 2011 indicated that use of prescription pills and heroin among teenagers is rare, with just .1 percent of students reporting heroin use in the last 30 days. Prescription pills were grouped together with “any illicit drug” in the survey. A total of 3 percent of students said they had used drugs in that category in the last 30 days.
For the few teenagers who do take up pills and heroin, the consequences can be dire. Ms. Murphy’s daughter, a 2003 Mashpee High School graduate, became addicted to opioids at 16 after a doctor prescribed OxyContin to help her recover from dental work. She abused a variety of opioid drugs before getting clean and sober in 2006, at age 21. She will be celebrating seven years of sobriety later this year, Ms. Murphy said.
As the mother of a teenage addict, Ms. Murphy said she knows firsthand how hard it can be to recognize the signs of drug abuse.
“She was my oldest, so I didn’t know anything different,” she said. “Is this normal? The second she came through the door at home, she seemed pretty normal.”
At school, it was a different story. Her grades were dropping and she was behaving strangely. Mashpee High School teacher Brian A. Hyde, who is now superintendent, alerted Ms. Murphy to the changes in her daughter.
“I sat in on her class without her knowing it,” said Ms. Murphy. “It was a huge awakening. She fell asleep while the teacher was teaching. Her behavior was belligerent at times and playful at other times. Very strange. It was difficult to watch. It was my wake-up call.”
If a teen exhibits changes in behavior, changes in sleep, and a drop in grades at the same time, a parent has reason to suspect drug abuse, Ms. Murphy said.
That message was repeated at a forum last week at the Mashpee Senior Center on the topic of prescription drug abuse. The talk, which was sponsored by Mashpee Triad, the Mashpee Police Department, the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office, and the Mashpee Council on Aging, drew a crowd of more than 20 people, including about eight members of Parents Supporting Parents.
Michael Bihari, a retired physician and the chairman of the Falmouth Prevention Partnership steering committee, addressed the group.
“What are the warning signs of teen drug abuse?” Dr. Bihari asked. “Your grandchild is sneaking around or doesn’t want to talk to you. Other signs are having bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils, or slurred speech.”
Dr. Bihari said it is important for anyone who has prescription pain pills to put them in a secure place. He showed the group a lockable medicine chest that looks like a small safe.
“Are you an inadvertent drug dealer?” he asked. “I got permission from three friends to look through their houses. I was able to bring home almost $5,000 worth of pills.”
The role that grandparents can play in positively influencing their grandchildren is also important, he said.
“Let your grandchild know what your feelings are about this. With my grandchildren, we talk about things that happen in the movies. Let your children and grandchildren know that you disapprove of drug use. Set clear rules for a teen who lives with you or is visiting.”
Trudy B. Avery, of Sandwich, said at the forum that she would like to see pharmaceutical companies take responsibility for the addiction problems their products can create. She has also been involved in fighting for better health insurance coverage for drug treatment programs. Her son, 25-year-old Corey Avery, has been struggling with opioid addiction since he was a teenager, she said.
“Some kid at Sandwich High School in math class gave him a pill,” she said. Like many teenagers, Corey thought that because the pills came from a pharmacy, they were safe to take. “There’s nothing wrong with a prescription, right?” she said.
Years later, Corey is in a sober complex in Florida with mandatory support group meetings for alcohol and drug abuse.
“Cory is struggling,” she said.
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