Hogan Hosts Conversation on Drugs

By Ann Needle
Substance abuse among local students is everywhere, the reason Rep. Kate Hogan cited for hosting “Community Conversations: Raising Healthy Teens”, last week at Hudson High School. Addressing a group of about 40 parents and school personnel, Hogan said she is hoping to hold similar forums at other high schools in her district, which includes Stow, Bolton and Maynard. “What we hope you get out of this is a continuing conversation about what we can do,” she remarked.

Sponsored by Hudson Youth Substance Abuse Prevention—described by Hogan as “a group of parents who came together to figure out what could be done” about rising substance abuse in Hudson— the forum brought together a panel of experts and parents who have first-hand experience with treating teen addiction.

Panelists agreed that bringing them together in the first place sends a message to the larger community that what is still viewed as a shameful topic won’t be solved by burying it in addicts’ homes. “It happens in more than one household, and you don’t always know that until you hear from others,” said Hudson Detective Chad Crogan said. HHS Adjustment Counselor Jamie Gravelle commented, “People fear they may be judged as parents. Some wonder what people will think of them if they go to something like this. But we need to have these conversations.”

Another reason people don’t attend public conversations about drug use is simple denial that their children may be using, according to Sheryl Marrazzo, whose now-grown son is a recovering addict.  “I can tell you the red flags. They may be cranky, and you’re thinking, that can’t be it. It can.”

Speaking of the symptoms of drug use her son had before entering recovery, Marrazzo explained that he first became unnaturally cranky and reclusive (“they don’t come out of their rooms”), his grades plummeted, and calls came from the school nurse to take him home because he was falling asleep. There also was the increasingly poor hygiene, along with the dilated pupils. Still, she said, “As parent, you don’t want to believe it. You think, I guess that $20 bill wasn’t there.”

Use of high-impact drugs such as heroin is on the rise, and Marrazzo warned, “It’s everywhere, and it’s cheap. If you don’t see it in Hudson, you’re wrong.” She explained that many teens in the town start taking parents’ prescription drugs at parties, and this escalates to drugs such as heroin when the teens discover, “Guess what, it’s not enough. And they don’t know what the consequences are.”

Grogan agreed, saying,  “From my experience, I’ve seen them start with marijuana, then build into more expensive drugs. They don’t start with heroin.”

Why Drugs?
One reason students turn to this risky behavior is the brain itself. Gravelle explained that a person’s frontal cortex — in charge of decision-making and follow-through — is not fully developed until about age 25. Until then, some decisions the person makes could have parents asking, “‘What were you thinking?’ The answer is, they weren’t.”

Panelists agreed that the overload of social messages is tough for most adolescents and teens to tune out in favor of personal advice from parents and others. As Crogan remarked, “It’s non-stop everything with the media. I don’t think kids have the time to decompress before the next tweet comes out.” Marrazzo also cited low self-esteem making so many vulnerable to these media messages. Along with that, “Media drives them to try to be something else.”

The situation is far from hopeless, but Dr. Craig Andrade, director of the Office of Child and Adolescent Health at the MA Dept. of Public Health, insisted it’s parents who need to have direct conversations with their children. Parents should be asking their children if they or their friends have been using, and what drug use is like at school. He recalled being a nurse on call at a hospital close to a college campus, and concluded that “the kids making the best choices at college are the ones most connected to their parents.”

Added Crogan, “The reality is there needs to be ongoing conversations.” To nods of approval from fellow panelists, Crogan suggested, “The best conversations happen in the car.” He explained that the addition of the radio, and lack of eye contact, actually can make conversations on touchy topics more relaxing.

Once a parent suspects drug use, Marrazzo stressed, “My experience is you need to intervene early. Address it right away; ask, do you need help?” A parent in the audience agreed, telling Marrazzo that she also ignored symptoms of early drug use in her child, and her biggest regret was “not following through on those red flags immediately.”

Marrazzo’s son, Cletus, told the panel that, beginning in seventh grade, “I got high in this town [Hudson] for 7 years.” His advice to concerned community members was to publish hotlines and other resources aimed at helping young addicts. He also suggested Hudson look into a needle exchange program, “So that when they get clean, they don’t suffer more repercussions.”