VALPARAISO | Retired Valparaiso podiatrist Mann Spitler shared a message of empowerment with the parents who attended his workshop on drug prevention this week.
“Prevention research has shown that parents have real power with their children,” Spitler told about 20 parents and others at the Family & Youth Services Bureau.
Spitler, whose 20-year-old daughter, Manda, died after using heroin in 2002, presented Undoing Drugs: What Parents Need To Know as part of the bureau's family life workshop series.
One of the keys to protecting children from drug experimentation and subsequent addiction is to discuss with them why using drugs and alcohol are not acceptable, Spitler said.
“Tell them you would be hurt and disappointed in them,” Spitler said.
“(By discussing it) you can reduce their use by 50 percent.”
Spitler, who is a certified prevention professional and speaks to schools and organizations about teen drug use, told parents that the war on drugs begins at home with them.
Parents need to get educated about effective prevention techniques, signs and symptoms of drug use, risk factors for use and reasons why adolescents seek to alter their consciousness, he said.
He said when it came to his daughter's drug use, he didn't know enough.
“I was a member of the NCAA,” Spitler said. “The No Clue At All club. If any of you are members of that club, I'm kicking you out tonight.”
Spitler said most parents can't tell that their children are using drugs, and by the time they notice signs and symptoms, they are already “behind the curve” because the child has been using for weeks, months or years.
Communication is key to prevention, he said. It's important to validate the child's feelings, practice active listening, get involved in their life and spend time each day with them doing an activity they enjoy.
The biggest risk factor for drug use is a child's friends, so parents need to know who their child's friends are, Spitler said.
Setting clear rules and following through with consequences also is key, he said.
Adolescents use drugs for a variety of reasons including to reduce stress, loneliness or boredom, or to improve their confidence.
Signs and symptoms of use include bloodshot eyes, dropping grades, withdrawing, loss of interest in activities and demanding more privacy.
Spitler began his presentation by playing a tape of the 911 call he made when he found Manda unresponsive after taking the heroin. He said his goal in life is to prevent other parents from going through that.
“No parent should ever have to make a call like that on behalf of a loved one.”