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How to notice signs of teen drug abuse

By: Corey Buchanan

February 28, 2020

Organizations host traveling display that helps educate parents of potential warning signs

Erica Richardson loses sleep at night when thinking about the opioid epidemic and her fear that one of her three teenagers could become enmeshed in it.

And this is one reason why she visited an educational event at a makeshift trailer designed to resemble a teenage bedroom at the Oregon Association of Nurseries campus in Wilsonville.

"(I wanted) to take advantage of the opportunity to hear from experts and (learn about) signs of teenage drug abuse," she said.

Rx Abuse Leadership Initiative (RALI) of Oregon, an organization trying to address the opioid epidemic, and Code 3, which tries to foster better relationships between cops and communities, hosted the trailer in Wilsonville Monday, Feb. 17. The event was the organizations' third stop on a tour that will span over 20 states across the western United States, and there is another trailer traveling across the eastern U.S.

"We are passionate about it because it has become an epidemic in the country and impacting families from all walks of life, all socioeconomic backgrounds, racial backgrounds," said Carrie Padgett, Code 3 representative.

The items in the trailer were chosen based on conversations both with addicts and parents who lost their children to addiction. During a tour, Padgett identified and talked about each item.

In the bathroom, signs such as a sink covered with burn marks (from smoking heroin), medication to treat constipation and diarrhea (heroin causes constipation and the constipation medicine can cause diarrhea), a constantly full tube of toothpaste (a sign they're hiding drugs in the toothpaste container), empty syringe packages and gross-looking aluminum foil (both used for heroin) in the garbage were present.

"Drug use typically begins in secret (like in the bathroom)," Padgett said.

Then in the closet, signs included shirts and belts tied in abnormal ways (which can be used as tourniquets for injection), missing shoelaces and slits through clothes that have a secret compartment.

"It's really important to feel and check clothing very thoroughly," Padgett said.

She also showed an energy drink bottle that was split in half in order to store items and a compartment in a radio as places where drugs can be stored.

"As the addiction progresses, it moves from the secrecy and the privacy of the bathroom to the bedroom and other rooms in the home," Padgett said.

She also noted that parents often are in denial of their child's drug abuse and that siblings or grandparents usually are the first people to find out.

"I've had moms see the trash there (which showed warning signs) and get teary-eyed because they're realizing they're seeing something they've seen in their own home," Padgett said.

Instead of ignoring signs, Padgett said parents should begin to look around after identifying suspicious behavior such as changing hygiene, a new friend group or drug-related clothing. Once they find conclusive evidence, parents should enroll their child in a treatment program as soon as possible.

Richardson found the idea that it's acceptable to check your children's room if you suspect drug use liberating.

"I think the immediate steps that I will take is communicating with my kids that I'm educating myself and that I care about them enough to keep a close eye on both their friend choices and periodically doing spot checks on their bedrooms," Richardson said.

In touring various cities, Code 3 representative David Padgett has found many people who are concerned by the epidemic, which has persist-

ed for years with no end in sight.

"People are very concerned. They start to see society decay by the use of it," he said. "We are focused on (creating) a safe society."

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