Family & Parenting

Negotiating the Drug Deal

How to keep your head and your cool when talking to your kids about drugs

By Kelli Reep


Think you know all there is to know about drugs and how to keep your kid free from them? You don’t, and the trends in drug use have changed from alcohol, marijuana and cocaine in the ’80s and ’90s to opioids, synthetic drugs and hallucinogens today. While liquor and pot are still problems for many, it’s the drugs that addict users—predominantly tweens, teens and those kids entering college—in one or two uses and cause irreversible damage to the brain, nervous system and spirit that are insidious.

According to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, these are the drugs that kids are being exposed to and using:

Kratom, which is an “organic pain-reliever” but can be classified as an opioid by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. While it is legal in some states, Kratom is illegal in Arkansas as well as Alabama, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin. Highly addictive and easily obtainable online, Kratom can cause respiratory depression and psychosis. 

Synthetic drugs like cannabinoids (think K2, Spice or Fake Weed) and cathinones (you’ve heard of this as bath salts) have mind-altering and unpredictable side effects. These drugs can be smoked in cigarettes, e-cigarettes, joints and incense, and they aren’t detected in standard drug tests. Besides being unregulated and deadly, synthetic drugs can be purchased at the corner gas station, among other common shops in your community.

Hallucinogens are proving that what is old is new again. Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and marijuana joints soaked in embalming fluid before smoking are seeing a resurgence. Regardless of the mind-altering effects of these drugs, the side effects include decreased lung function and an increased risk of cancer.

Opioids are particularly in vogue with young adults as, the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids states, “they consume more prescription medications recreationally than any other age group, sometimes in combination with alcohol.” The side effects of opioids include respiratory failure, permanent neuropathy, additional use of lethal drugs like heroin and fentanyl, disability and death.

It’s overwhelming to think about, but the availability of these drugs and the consequences of obtaining and taking them can have dire consequences on your kids, your family and your marriage. 

A first step in preparing your children to remain drug-free is for parents, grandparents and other adults to lock up all prescribed medications at home, so they are not easily accessed. Drugs no longer used or outdated medications can be taken to a location like a police or fire station or local pharmacy that participates in a drug take-back program. This program disposes of drugs properly so they aren’t a danger to others or the environment. 

After this, parents will have to have a conversation with their children about drugs and their effects. 

“No one wants to admit that their kids could be susceptible to illicit drugs,” said Dr. Brian Kubacak, a psychiatrist with Methodist Family Health. “The reality is that everyone’s kids are susceptible to it. It doesn’t matter what family, household, school, church or community you belong to as it can and does affect everyone. What parents must come to terms with is drug use is something their kids are facing, and they will have to address it with them.” 

That may seem easier said than done, but there are ways you can approach the subject without feeling out of your depth. First, find a time where you and your child can talk one-on-one with no distractions. You can share a meal, go for a drive or do an activity together where there are no distractions like television, smart phones, computers, etc. Next, stay calm and focused on the subject, even if you feel anything but. The way you handle yourself—relaxed body, calm voice—will help your child stay calm and focused, too. Tell your child you want to talk with her or him about something important and reassure her or him that they are safe and can trust you with anything she or he wants to tell you. 

“Your goal in this discussion is to learn what your child’s experience is with drugs,” Dr. Kubacak explained. “This will tell you your next step. If she tells you she has heard of these drugs, you ask where. If he tells you he knows other kids who have taken drugs, you ask who—are they kids you (the parent) know, are they his friends, are they at school or church or on his team—and what kind of drugs.

“You also must ask if your child has tried any drugs,” Dr. Kubacak added. “I know this is no easy task but learning this from your child will set the stage for you to get your child help if they need it. It also will set the tone for your relationship from this day on as your child will see she or he can come to you with a problem without you getting upset or judging them. Empathy and compassion go a long way when it comes to establishing and reinforcing open, trusting communication between parents and their kids.” 

Keeping your children healthy and safe is no small task for any parent. Take the time to educate yourself about what your children are facing when you aren’t with them and initiate open, trusting conversations about the temptations and consequences of taking drugs.


Where to Turn If Your Kid Turns to Drugs

If you want to learn more about what drugs are trending among adolescents and young adults in Arkansas, there are several resources available. 

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)— has a wealth of information on how to talk about alcohol and drugs as well as warning signs to look for if you suspect your child is using.

Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM)— is a clearinghouse of resources for treatment, support groups and insurance information.

Arkansas Take Back—a partnership of the Arkansas Department of Health and the Arkansas State Police, has information on substance abuse prevention, recovery and how the community can help keep citizens healthy. It also has dates and locations where citizens can turn in their no-longer-used or outdated drugs. 

Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS)—find community-based programs for juveniles throughout the state of Arkansas at HumanServices.