Kids have easy access to drugs, drink, poll finds

Many parents unaware how close threat is


At first glance, Samantha Tish, 15, who lives in a small town near the Wisconsin border, would seem insulated from drug and alcohol use.

She has good grades and a tight group of girlfriends, whose weekend activities run to shopping and watching movies rather than partying. But that doesn't mean that temptation isn't lurking everywhere.

"Most parents are clueless," she said. "They have no idea what goes on at parties ... or how drugs and alcohol are everywhere. Their kids are going to do what they want to do."

Samantha's observation is supported by a survey released today by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Among the findings: One-third of teens and nearly half of 17-year-olds attend house parties where alcohol, marijuana and illegal drugs are plentiful - even when parents are in the home.

"Where are they?" asked Joseph A. Califano, the center's chairman and president, who was secretary of health, education and welfare during the Carter administration. "Why aren't they walking in and out of the party? Don't they smell the pot or the booze? There's just a tremendous disconnect."

The survey also found:

80 percent of parents believe that neither alcohol nor marijuana is usually available at teen gatherings - but 50 percent of their kids say both are.

98 percent of parents say they are normally present during parties; a third of teens report that parents are rarely around.

Only 12 percent of parents see illegal substances as their teen's greatest concern. But twice as many teens - 27 percent - say drugs are a major worry.

38 percent of teens say they can buy marijuana within a day; 19 percent can complete the buy in an hour or less.

"Parents are living in a fool's paradise," Califano said. "They've got to take the blinders off and pay attention."

The annual teen survey, a CASA staple since 1995, interviewed 1,297 12- to 17-year-olds and 562 parents, 84 percent of whom were parents of the youths surveyed.

The report also found that navigating the transition from age 13 to 14 is particularly perilous. The availability of illegal substances spikes at this time, with 14-year-olds four times likelier to have access to prescription drugs than their year-younger peers and three times likelier to be offered Ecstasy and marijuana.

"When you talk to teens confidentially about being responsible for their health, you'd be amazed at what you hear," said Dr. Cynthia Mears of Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

Other research studies say that when under the influence of drugs and alcohol, "they can't negotiate sex, they can't negotiate getting home safely, they can't negotiate money, they can't negotiate anything," Mears said

So what should parents do? "Lock up their alcohol and introduce themselves to the parents of their kids' friends," she replied.

One reason for all the parental denial, say experts is that they often feel their offspring are protected by ZIP codes, extracurricular activities and impressive grade point averages.

Bonnie Miller Rubin writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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