I’ve been thinking a lot about drugs lately.
At work, my colleagues and I have been looking at the Youth Risk Behavior Survey to consider if the 2015 report that 22% of Vermont high school students have used marijuana in the last 30 days reflects our own experiences working with young people in 2017. I’ve also been researching the opioid epidemic for a separate project, which means I’ve spent way more hours of my week than I’d like reading articles about the addicts living next door to us and watching news specials on how deadly fentanyl is. So, maybe you’ll understand why I stomped across my driveway to my neighbor’s house to ask him not to smoke up when my daughter was nearby coloring in the sunny yard today.
Then he showed me where the bullet was still lodged in his leg.
My neighbor, I learned, is a veteran who’d seen some combat and now uses marijuana to manage the pain from his injuries. He apologized for lighting up and told me he usually noticed when the girls were in the yard and tried to avoid exposing them. We chatted about what I might include in my overdue care package to my cousin, a Marine stationed in Kuwait (beef jerky & hot sauce), and then he hurried off to catch a bus.
I returned to Libby who’d moved on from her coloring book to trying to coat the picnic blanket in bug repellant, completely unaware of the sweet smelling herb on the breeze. Taking possession of the bug spray can, I wondered if maybe I haven’t talked with my girls enough about drugs (and their liberal use of bug spray).
Having been raised in the, “Just say no!” Nancy Reagan era, I wonder what my own message should be to my kids about drugs now.
We’ve talked with the girls about drugs before. Mostly though, this was in the context of issuing dire warnings against touching a grandparent’s medicine when they’re visiting, “Libby, they look like Sweet Tarts, but you will die if you try them!” We’ve told her sister, Nell, in the same panicky tone, “If someone offers you drugs, you say ‘no’ and tell a grown-up! You might die!” It’s hard to argue against either point, right?
But I wonder if it’s time to say something more nuanced?
One day, I came close to having such a discussion with my ten-year-old when she read the headline to me: “Governor Scott Vetoes Marijuana Legalization, But Stays Open to Revisions.” Had we not been late to soccer practice, I like to think we might have read that article together and considered recreational vs medicinal marijuana use. I could have shared my Coloradan brother-in-law’s reflection on the impact of legalization there,
“You smell it a lot more, but I’m more freaked out by the morons texting and driving!”
Nell did read Kate Messner’s The Seventh Wish last fall, a wonderfully age- appropriate story about a girl whose sister is struggling with a heroin addiction. We did talk about how horrible and scary this was in the book, and I could see the story had an impact. What I didn’t do was extend this conversation into anything more related to our community. I didn’t help Nell connect the fictional story to anything in real life.
I’m realizing that my little family is just remarkably sheltered from drug use or abuse. My husband and I drink, we use caffeine, and we have family members who smoke cigarettes. Beyond this though, drugs aren’t something we encounter apart from news stories or funny smells in our neighborhood some afternoons. As much as I would like to keep it that way, my gut tells me I need to talk to them, that I need to do more to prepare my daughters for what they’ll encounter as they grow up.
It’s not simple though. There are legitimate reasons my neighbor uses marijuana, and to be honest, I’m not overly worried about my friends who smoke recreationally. At the same time, I’m horrified at the number of overdoses in my town and terrified at the thought of my girls trying opioids someday.
There are some pretty good resources out there for what I might say next time the opportunity comes up, so I’m trying to read up these days. But the truth is that I have more questions now than answers. Did you know that research has shown that the D.A.R.E. program a lot of us went through as kids is not effective at preventing or delaying drug use? There’s good evidence that just saying “no” is an ineffective approach, too. So what does work? What’s the right thing to say to a child about drugs when states are legalizing marijuana and while when we’re in the middle of a devastating opioid epidemic?
I’m not sure, but I’d like to figure it out before my neighbor lights up again.