This past week was Red Ribbon week at my son's school. There were lots of activities at schools all over the country about self-esteem, peer pressure, and drugs. This is supposed to help children make better choices and prevent them from using drugs. My son came home with a ribbon that proclaimed that he was "Drug Free". I just smiled and made a fuss over him like I always do. He's six, so I didn't say what I really thought about his ribbon: I think that the message is outdated, and misses the point.
I am not drug-free. I am illegal drug-free, as in I don't smoke pot or snort heroine or cook meth or anything like that. But I am not drug-free. The medications that I take to control my blood pressure are drugs. The aspirin that I take for my headaches is a drug. The caffeine that is in my coffee every morning is a drug. The glass of wine that I drink every now and then is a drug. The insulin that diabetics take is a drug. The inhaler that asthmatics, myself and my son included, suck down...is a drug. The allergy medications that people take...are drugs. That epi-pen? Contains a drug. The drugs that I use, that most people use, are prescribed by a physician, or have been approved for sale to the populace for personal, non-prescription use. These are the good drugs.
They are still drugs.
It's not the illegal stuff that is killing people these days. It's the other kind. Prescription medications are being abused by the truckload, by teens and adults alike. Oxycontin, Ambien, Vicodin, Xanax, Viagra, Ritalin, etc., are all powerful prescription drugs that are useful and helpful to many people. There are diabetics today who would not be alive if someone hadn't invented insulin. However, because these medications are prescribed by a doctor, they are viewed as benign, not substances that can kill a person. Kids will even double up on pills, or take more than one kind of pill, just because they can't be bad, if a doctor prescribed it.
This is where I take issue with Red Ribbon week. None of the activities that I personally have seen in the schools ever mention prescription drugs. By focusing only on the illegal drugs, Red Ribbon week seems to be ignoring the fact that prescription drug abuse is rampant, especially among teens and young adults. Kids don't need money to buy drugs these days; they just need to raid the medicine cabinet in their own home.
Children have lives full of so much potential and promise. Drugs of any kind
will wreck that promise and kill that potential. I've seen way too many
people destroyed by meth or crack to ever want that for any child. I understand that the purpose behind the Red Ribbon campaign is honorable, and I even agree with the idea that illegal drug use must stop. I
understand that there are hundreds of thousands of children who take
these lessons to heart and vow to never, ever, take any illegal drugs and keep that promise. That's been worth the time and effort that Nancy Reagan got started all those years ago with her "Just Say No" campaign.
But times have changed.
What we should be telling kids is that they should never take any
drugs that are not specifically prescribed for them by a doctor. What
we should be saying is don't just take any pill that someone might hand
you. What we should be saying is stay out of Grandma's medicines
because those drugs are not yours and what is in them could kill you. We should be talking about Heath Ledger, Anna Nicole Smith, Brittany Murphy and others who have died from abusing prescription drugs, not just the ones who have overdosed on the illegal stuff.
I've already had discussions with my son about drugs. Because he likes the taste of his chewable Singulair tablet, he sometimes asks for more, and when he does, we talk. I explain that his doctor wrote right on the bottle that he was only supposed to take one pill a day and that we were going to follow the directions, just like he does. He seemed to accept that, but there will probably be other opportunities for he and I to talk about the correct use of medications and the incorrect ones.
I hate that I have to have this discussion at all, but if it keeps him from making a bad choice one day, I will talk until my ears bleed. I don't want him regurgitating platitudes, however. I want him to take what I tell him to heart, and learn from it. So when he finds someone handing him a small white pill at a party, he will make the right choice.
The one that keeps him alive.