At what age should we talk to our kids about drugs?

I am a rural family physician and my recommendation: before age 9. Before third grade.

WHY? Your eyes are popping out of your head in horror, but my recommendation comes from surveying my patients. For years.

The biggest drug killer is tobacco. However, it takes 30 years to kill people. It is very effective at taking twenty years off someone’s life, destroying their lungs, causing lung cancer, heart disease, mouth cancer, breast cancer, uterine cancer, stomach cancer, emphysema, heart disease….

I ask older smokers what age they started smoking. This is informal. This is not scientific. But most of my male older smokers say that they first tried cigarettes at age 9. I think parents need to be talking to their children about cigarettes by age 9.

And then start talking about alcohol and illegal drugs and the terrible dangers of pills.

“My innocent child would never….” Unfortunately my daughter said that as a senior in high school in our small town, there were 4-5 kids out of the 120+ that were not trying alcohol and marijuana. But there are kids trying far worse substances. We have methamphetamines here, and heroin, and pain pills sold on the street.

The perception that pills are safe is wrong too. Heroin is made from the opium poppy and it’s rather an expensive process, not to mention illegal and has to be imported from dangerous places. But teens take oxycodone and hydrocodone, bought on the street, to get high. And now drug sellers are making FAKE oxycodone and hydrocodone and selling that on the street. It contains fentanyl, which is much much stronger. If the dealer gets the mix wrong, the buyer can overdose and die.

Talk to your children young! NEVER take a pill from a friend, never take someone else’s medicine, never take a pill to party! YOU COULD DIE! And if you have a friend that is not making sense, that you can’t wake up, DON’T LEAVE THEM! Call an ambulance. Your friend may have used something illegal, and may not want you to call an ambulance. But if you think they are too sleepy….. don’t take a chance. People can get so sleepy, so sedated, that they stop breathing.

And parents, you are the ones that have to set a good example. Don’t drink alcohol every night. Don’t use pot every night. Take as few pills as possible. Pills aren’t necessarily safe because they are “supplements” or “natural” — hey, opium and heroin are plant based! Stop using tobacco and if you have a hard time doing it, tell your children you are struggling. It takes an average of eight tries to quit smoking. Get help.

Lastly, we talk about childhood innocence, but we let kids babysit at age 11. That is the Red Cross youngest age. My daughter took a babysitting course at age 11 and babysat. If we think they are responsible enough to do CPR, call 911 and do the heimlich maneuver, shouldn’t we also be talking to them about addictive substances by that age?

Talk to your children about addiction young… so that they can avoid it.

I am submitting this to the Daily Post Prompt: calm. I am not calm about this topic, but the photograph is calm…. and if we can help more children and families…..

does chronic pain kill you?

Another writer sent me this story, saying that chronic pain killed Prince, not an overdose.

http://www.rawstory.com/2016/05/prince-did-not-die-from-pain-pills-he-died-from-chronic-pain/

My response is complex.

1. Is chronic pain an “illness” in it’s own right?

My answer is yes and no. It’s complicated and our understanding is evolving. Right now I think of chronic pain as a switch in the brain that gets thrown. It can be thrown by adverse childhood experiences, by infection, by trauma or war or abuse, by too much stress… or a combination of any of these.

2. Why a switch in the brain?

In fibromyalgia patients we can’t find much on physical exam, except that the pain seems out of proportion to the exam. Ditto with chronic fatigue, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, TMJ, etc. However, now we can image the brain with a functional MRI and watch which parts are lighting up and how much. A study of “normal” and fibromyalgia patients involved a standardized pain stimulus: a thumbscrew. (Kinky, right?) The normal patients said the pain stimulus was 3-4 out of 10 and their brains lit up a certain amount. The fibromyalgia patients said the same pain stimulus was 7-8 out of 10 and the pain parts of the brain lit up MORE corresponding to their pain level. So they are not lying… and it IS in their heads. Sort of. We aren’t sure whether the muscle is yelling more than normal or whether the brain is hypersensitive or both. My guess would be both.

And I think this is an adaptation. It is to get us to rest, heal, calm down, introspect, stop being type A, etc. Boy, do we suck at it. Though recently I had a person in clinic who said what their body wanted to do was nothing. They just wanted to lie around. I said, well, ok, so when can you do that? They did, for two weeks, at the holidays. And my patient said, “One day I had a cup of tea and a book and the cat on my lap and the dog at my feet. I realized that my adrenaline system was turning off and I felt calm and relaxed. Healed.” Back at work the person cannot always maintain it but is getting better at it.

3. What does this have to do with Prince?

The problem is that for 20 years we treated chronic pain with opiates. Unfortunately on continuous opiates, the brain cells change in many people and “down-regulate” the opiate receptors. Less receptors, the pain rises. The person needs more opiate. The brain removes more receptors. So two myths: one that if you have chronic pain and take medicine as directed, you can’t get addicted. Only dependent. Since that is a myth, the DSM-V has combined addiction and dependence into one diagnosis: opioid overuse syndrome. It is a spectrum, not two separate responses.

The second myth is that if you give enough opioid, it will help the pain. Well, no. UW Pain and Addiction Clinic says that on average pain is reduced about 30% by opiods, whatever the dose. And high doses start causing some weird  hyperalgesias. I’ve weaned two people from over 100mg methadone daily down to 20-30mg. It took two years. They felt better on the lower dose after they got through withdrawal symptoms and a short term increase in the pain receptors complaining at them. And they are much less likely to overdose and die.

Page two here http://www.supportprop.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/PROP_OpioidPrescribing.pdf discusses current knowledge about opioids.

4. So like, Prince?

He may have died from a combination of fatigue and sedating drugs. If you get enough sedating drugs, then you stop breathing. Opioids are the biggest offenders combined with alcohol or sleep medicine like ambien or benzodiazepines like valium or ativan or alprazolam or muscle relaxants like methacarbomal or a combination of all of the above. I am a strict physician about urine drugs screens and I do the dip in clinic in front of the person. Way too often, the person does not tell me about the alprazolam or whatever until I am holding the dip over the cup…. and that’s when they tell me. They got it from the ER or a friend or two years ago or … took their dog’s. Really.

He may have died from influenza, if he had it, with sedating drugs. Bad influenza causes lung tissue swelling and can mess up your oxygenation. Your heart has to take up the slack and go faster. If you are trying to work and your heart rate is well above normal, it’s exhausting. It can kill you.

He may have died from overwork, another infection, sedating medicines…. but not directly from chronic pain. Chronic pain slows us but I do not think it kills us*. What kills us is trying to treat it with a pill instead of resting and doing gentle exercise and saying: What does my body want?

 

5. Overdose?

Also, are we talking about an accidental overdose? Are we talking about drug abuse? Are we talking about accidental death or suicide or do we as a society think that addiction deserves overdose death but a person taking medicine for chronic pain is a tragedy? Aren’t we a bit judgemental?

Prince may have taken a pain pill as directed but taken it with too many other controlled substances or with alcohol or while sick and exhausted. Overdose means too high a dose. If it was two percocets, alcohol, flu and xanax…. it could be an accidental poisoning.

6. Are you sure?

No. Medicine changes. Our understanding of the brain changes. Science is about change and deepening understanding. We are barely getting started on the brain and I would say that we are in preschool there.

 

 

*Stress alone can cause heart attacks and sudden death:    http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/stress-cardiomyopathy-a-different-kind-of-heart-attack-201509038239

The photograph is from a week ago, part of my Maxfield Parish cloud series, zoomed way in to the mountains across the water.