Dear Parent

Since 1991, we have witnessed significant increases in the use of drugs, such as tobacco, inhalants, and marijuana, by young Americans. For example, surveys show that current use of tobacco (use in the 30 days prior to the survey) has increased by 34 percent among eighth graders. At the same time, perception among young people that drug use is dangerous and wrong has declined dramatically.

Why is this happening? In part, because young people are bombarded with mixed messages about drugs, whether it's through movies or music videos, advertisements or peer pressure.

To help protect our children, we have developed an anti-drug program involving the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Scholastic Inc. Your child's teachers have received free classroom materials as part of this campaign.

But there's something for you as well.

We know that parents, grandparents, foster parents, older siblings, youth leaders, coaches, and other role models can play a major role in protecting young people from drugs. It's critical that all Americans work together to send a clear and consistent message to our young people: Drugs are illegal, dangerous and wrong!

This guide can help you send that message. It provides factual information about the dangers of drug use as well as anti-drug activities that are designed for families. We hope you will use it to help the young people in your life.

Working as one team, we can help all our children grow up healthy and drug-free. Thank you.

Donna E. Shalala
Secretary of Health and Human Services

What You Should Know About Drugs

As parents you know that drug use among young Americans is on the rise once more. Many kids today even inhale aerosol products for kicks. According to research by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 46 percent of eighth grade students report that they have smoked cigarettes. The same study also found that by the eighth grade, 29 percent of American children have used illicit drugs at least once in their lifetime. This guide provides you with the latest information on drug use among young people, particularly tobacco, marijuana, and inhalants. Please read this guide to learn key facts about these three drugs. It will help you explain to your child exactly why drug use is illegal, dangerous, and wrong - and why he or she should never start.

Key Message About Drugs

It is important to convey clear and consistent messages about drugs and drug abuse. Here are the five key points to this program:
  • Message 1 - Drugs are dangerous and unhealthy. They harm your body and can ruin your life. Young people should not use them.
  • Message 2 - Not everyone uses drugs. In fact, most young Americans do not use drugs.
  • Message 3 - Drugs can harm your entire body. A drug that changes how you feel - by causing a reaction in the brain - can also produce other effects (often harmful) on other parts of the body.
  • Message 4 - The more you take drugs, the more you harm yourself. The harmful effects of drugs increase when drugs are taken repeatedly.
  • Message 5 - Do something positive instead of taking drugs. There are ways to enjoy yourself that make your life better, not worse.

Q: What is a drug?
A: A drug is any substance that changes how the body works once it gets inside the body.

Q: Does everyone use illegal drugs?
A: No. Some children may assume that everyone takes drugs. The fact is that the vast majority of Americans do not use illegal drugs. It is important for children to understand this fact and to know that it is perfectly normal to refuse to use illegal drugs.

Q: Does the same drug affect everyone the exact same way?
A: No.The same drug can do different things to different people. Most drugs offer special risks to children.  For example, the same amount of cocaine results in a much higher blood level of the drug in a child than it does in an adult. Thus, a child may run a greater risk of overdose than an adult. Second, children are less able than adults to understand the possible long-term effects of drug abuse, such as lung cancer, liver damage, and mental health problems. The younger the person, the more difficult it is for them to understand the consequences of drug abuse.

Q: Where do drugs go in the body?
A: Once drugs enter the bloodstream, they travel throughout the body. They travel fastest to organs with a rich blood supply - the heart, the lungs, and the brain. Drugs that are inhaled, smoked, or injected directly into the bloodstream get into those organs the fastest. Because drugs travel throughout the body, they can affect different organs at the same time. For example, sniffed glue may simultaneously intoxicate the brain and damage liver cells.

Q: How do drugs work?
A: As drugs contact organ cells, they interact with specific "targets"or receptors, on or inside the cells. When a drug combines with these receptors a "message" is sent to the cell, changing its normal activity. For example, nicotine combines with nerve cells to increase the rate of electrical conduction - this increases the heart rate and blood pressure. Inhalants interact with brain cells to slow electrical conduction, which causes intoxication.

Q: How do drugs leave the body?
A: Drugs usually leave the body through the liver and the kidneys. Some, like inhalants can be eliminated by the lungs in the breath. Most drugs leave the body within days or hours after they have been taken. Nicotine, for example, is eliminated so rapidly that a person must smoke cigarettes continuously through the day to keep the nicotine level high enough for its effects to be felt. In contrast, THC, the active ingredient in marijuana leaves the body so slowly that it can be detected for at least several days after it was smoked.

Three Drugs All Parents Should Know About

One - Inhalants

Many common household products contain chemicals that, when inhaled, produce a drunken-like state. According to a recent HHS survey, approximately one out of five eighth-graders reported using inhalants to get high at least once in their lives.

Most inhalants are extremely toxic to the body's organs. Inhalant use may cause neural damage - leading to the loss of reasoning ability as well psychological and social problems. Significant damage to the liver and kidneys may also occur. Some inhalants may cause sudden death due to heartbeat irregularities.

Users of inhalants may have a sense of lightheadedness and experience vivid fantasies. Long-term users often lose weight have nosebleeds, mouth sores, and are irritable or depressed. Nausea, vomiting and extreme salivation are common side effects. The table below fists common household products that are used as inhalants.

Types of Inhalants Product
Adhesives model airplane glue, other glues, special elements
Aerosols spray paint, hair spray, deodorant, air freshener
Cleaning Agents dry cleaning fluid, spot remover, degreasers
Food Products whipped cream aerosols
Solvents and Gases nail polish remover, paint remover, correction fluid, lighter fluid

Two - Tobacco

Recent surveys by HHS show that tobacco use among eighth graders has increased 34 percent since 1991, despite the fact that the health consequences of tobacco use are well-documented.

Teen tobacco users risk addiction, which can lead to heart disease, lung cancer, emphysema, and cancers of the mouth, just to name a few of tobacco's dangers.

Research shows that young people may not understand these long-term health effects. If the health message doesn't register with teens you know, you may also point out that tobacco decreases their stamma, stains their teeth, wrinkles their skin, and gives them bad breath.

If you know children or teens who smoke cigarettes to demonstrate their independence, point out that tobacco's active ingredient - nicotine - is a highly addictive substance. Smokers may continue using tobacco even if they know its dangers. Instead of being "independent" they are slaves to a dirty, unhealthy habit.

Three - Marijuana

Marijuana is smoked as cigarettes, in pipes, or baked into food. The main active ingredient in marijuana, from the hemp plant, is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Marijuana leaves the body slowly. The effects of smoking a cigarette last for hours, so someone who smokes at night may still be under the drug's influence the following morning.

There are some tell-tale signs of marijuana use. Someone who has smoked a single marijuana cigarette may be in a talkative, outgoing mood and have food cravings. This is often followed by a period of sleepiness. Users often show signs of paranoia. Marijuana also impairs coordination, concentration, and short-term memory.

Heavy users may smoke several marijuana cigarettes a day. High doses can produce hallucinations. Long-term use may lead to a lack of energy, motivation, and impairment of memory. These effects may linger even after the user stops using the drug.

In recent studies, scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, have found that daily inhalation of one to three marijuana cigarettes appears to produce approximately the same lung and cancer risks as smoking five times as many tobacco cigarettes. As with tobacco, lung damage and the risk of cancer are significant hazards of marijuana use.

Arm Yourself With Knowledge

Here are two things for parents and kids to do together in order to learn how not to harm themselves with drugs.

One - Actions

Encourage your child to pursue his or her own interests and hobbies as an alternative to turning to drugs as a way to feel good and avoid being bored or lonely. First, talk with your child to find out why they think people use drugs (to avoid stress, because of peer pressure, to have fun). Then ask what kinds of things could people do to feel happy and productive without needing to turn to drugs. Sports, music, drama and hobbies are very good answers. Work together to help your child come up with three positive actions to do, such as starting a hobby, joining a sports team, or learning to play a musical instrument. Encourage your child to share his or her hobby with friends and classmates during a hobby day at school.

School Children Graphic

Two - What are they really saying?

GOAL: To see the hidden messages in cigarette advertising. With your child, collect some cigarette ads from magazines, or check out the billboards along the roadside while traveling. Write down words to describe the people shown in the ads, and the environments they are in. (Cigarette ads usually depict attractive people in clean, appealing settings.) Then, the next time you visit a mall, fast food restaurant, or other public space, sit with your child and politely observe passersby. Have your child identify people smoking. Talk about what he or she sees. Are all of the smokers glamorous or macho? How are the ads different from real life? Talk about what the tobacco ads are really showing. Discuss how some advertising works by showing people images of what they want to be like. Then, using what your child has learned about tobacco, create your own ads to show the reality of cigarette smoking, and how it affects appearance, breath, athletic ability, and long-term health.

Author: 
National Institute on Drug Abuse
Date: 
November 1997

To help protect our children, we have developed an anti-drug program involving the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Scholastic Inc. Your child's teachers have received free classroom materials as part of this campaign. From Donna E. ShalalaSecretary of Health and Human Services

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