RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Erin Lawler Patterson knows all too well that addiction is consuming teenagers. She has immersed herself in the problem for 14 years as an addiction counselor in New Jersey.
What she sees there she is now taking on the road and sharing with parents, including here in Richmond.
“There’s power in knowing what these pills are capable of,” she told a group during a presentation at Congregation Or Ami on Huguenot Road.
Addiction is roaming among the halls of schools in Central Virginia and beyond, according to Patterson.
This 2016 survey from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found 3.6 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 17 abused prescription drugs. That number spiked to 7.3 percent from age 18.
“We are naive to think my kid would never. Get off of that mentality because our kids, every one of our kids are vulnerable,” Patterson stresses. “It’s not when we were teenagers. It’s a different generation because this is the first generation of young people who’ve grown up with their only means of communication is through their cell phone.”
Patterson says the strong tie to technology leads to more anxiety and depression. Mixed with our society’s dangerous message to medicate, and teens turn to pills to numb emotional pain.
“I’ve had countless kids say to me, I would never do drugs, I would never do drugs, but a prescription drug is not being perceived as what the gateway it can be to in terms of full-fledged addiction,” says Patterson. “Where we’re at with prescription pills, we’re at a scary place. Addiction is within our neighborhoods, it’s within our community, and it’s within our homes.”
Patterson wants parents to know there are ways to prevent problems before they start in your home.
She advises limiting access to pills by locking up medicine cabinets because no teen is immune to substance abuse.
Also, make yourself more approachable with open communication about the opioid epidemic and what is happening in the community.
Additionally, make sure your teen knows if addiction runs in your family and understands the potential consequences of trying a painkiller even once.