A community meeting called, "21 or Too Young ... Building Healthy Families," attracted both parents and students on Feb. 22 to to address the dangers of underage drinking and use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
“Twenty-five percent of ninth graders and 37 percent of eleventh graders [in the Capistrano Unified School District] reported having at least one alcoholic drink within the past 30 days,” said host Ruel Fuentecilla, from the California National Guard, inside the Dana Hills High School theatre. “One in four teens reported taking at least once in their lives that have not been prescribed to them by a doctor.”
“21 or Too Young… Building Healthy Families,” is a program developed by The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence –Orange County/Community Alliance Network targeted at parents as a way to increase awareness on issues of how they affect the community and how to develop solutions and strategies to minimize the problem.
The panel for the evening consisted of Dr. Robert Winokur, emergency medicine physician and chairman for the department of emergency medicine at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, and Melanie Rendon from Discovery in Recovery.
According to the Surgeon General’s 2007 Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking report, alcohol is the most commonly abused substance by America’s youth.
Alcohol, Dr. Winokur said, is the “major killer of our kids.” He reported receiving four to eight alcohol related cases in the emergency room on Thursday through Sunday nights.
Rendon advised parents to get informed and search for resources.
“Talk to your kids and know your kids and just pray and hope because there isn’t a clear answer for this,” said Dr. Winokur.
Both panelists encouraged random testing and the use of breathalyzers at home. Dr. Winokur recognized that this measure won’t make teenagers very happy.
“But so what? They’ll be alive.”
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported in 2008 that 1.9 million youths ages 12 to 17 abused prescription drugs. Five percent of teens acquired pain relievers from a friend or relative without asking and four percent bought it from a drug dealer. The alarming statistic is that 56 percent scored them free from a friend or relative.
Dr. Winokur added that Orange County is the second leading county in the U.S. with more deaths by prescription drugs.
“Last year, 57 million opiate prescriptions were written last year,” he said. “These things are out there. People don’t like to throw prescription drugs away because they paid for them or think someone else will use them.”
Some of the most commonly used prescription drugs are Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet and Opana. Dr. Winokur stressed the importance of getting rid of such drugs, given that relatives’ medicine cabinets are the most popular place where teenagers obtain them.
Lance Christensen from the Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy also shared the floor with the other panelists, talking about new alcohol and drug product trends that target youth. He brought a wide array of artifacts, such as bongs, bath salts, empty cans of Four Lokos, rave bracelets and flasks for the parents to see.
"Our eighth grade girls are the biggest alcoholics," he said. "The boys are more into weed, bath salts…"
Christensen also reported processing 68 students from the school district last year for alcohol or drug possession.
Phil Falcetti, CEO of NCADD-OC/CAN, pointed out that Youtube is the best resource for parents to learn about what is going on in their communites given that teens post almost everything on social media sites.
Rendon advised not to allow sleepovers and singled out the “cool kids” as the biggest substance abusers.
Dr. Winokur stressed the importance of parents having a strong and honest relationship with their children.
“Ask the questions. They’re your children,” said Falcetti.