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Back To Vidyya Parents Not Pushers Turn Kids On To Drugs:

One In Five Drug Abusers In Treatment Did Drugs With Parents

One in five drug abusers in treatment used illegal drugs with their parents, and most did so before the age of 18, a new survey has found. This survey, supported by earlier research, makes clear that parents sharing illegal drugs with their children is a significant, and largely unrecognized phenonmen.

Strikingly, study findings explode the myth of the schoolyard "pusher," that shadowy figure pressing drugs on unwary youths.

According to the survey, conducted by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates at Phoenix House treatment programs throughout the country, candidates for drug treatment are nineteen times more likely to have been introduced to illicit drugs by a family member than by a professional drug dealer. And they are five times more likely to have been "turned on¨ to drugs by a parent than by a dealer.

Similar levels of parent-teen drug sharing was found among whites, blacks and Hispanics and there was little difference between urban and suburban residents.

According to Mitchell S. Rosenthal M.D., a child psychiatrist and president of Phoenix House, survey findings reflect the fact that after more than 30 years of widespread drug use in the United States, many parents today regard teenage drug use as no more than a youthful rite of passage.

"These findings should disturb everyone involved in preventing drug use among kids,¨ Dr. Rosenthal said. "It's shocking to discover that one drug abuser in five did drugs with their parents. And one in five say they received their first drugs -- not from some pusher on the street -- but from a family member.¨

"The study tells us, "We have met the neighborhood drug pusher and he is us,¨ Dr. Rosenthal added.

"There are significant policy implications to the study,¨ according to Dr. Rosenthal. "Most drug prevention and education campaigns urge parents to talk to their children about the dangers of drugs. Yet, we see here that many parents are far from being what a current television prevention campaign calls "the anti-drug."

"The influence of parents are a double-edged sword,¨ Dr. Rosenthal said. "We have to remember what kids are hearing and seeing at home is as varied as the parents they live with. And after more than three decades of widespread drug use in America, many parents have spent much of their lives as users themselves. We also hope that these results will spur policy makers to take a new look at the importance of drug treatment in helping adolescents become drug-free.¨

Douglas Schoen, partner in the firm of Penn, Schoen and Berland, which serves the White House, among other clients, said: "This survey is startling and extraordinary in a number of ways. First, it gives us an insight into what happens behind closed doors in all too many American families."

"Second, by applying the public opinion research methodology usually used by politicians and corporations to address the drug problem, we can clearly hear the voices of the ultimate experts - drug users themselves.¨

The survey found:

- Twenty percent of the people seeking treatment at Phoenix House used drugs with their parents, and 59 percent of them used drugs with their parents before the age of 18.

- Of those who used drugs with their parents 76 percent reported using marijuana, 19 percent used crack, 16 percent used cocaine, and 6 percent used heroin.

- Nineteen percent were introduced to drug use by family members: 9 percent by siblings, 5 percent by parents, 4 percent by uncles, aunts, cousins, and 1 percent by spouses.

- The study found that fewer than 1 percent had been introduced to drugs by a professional dealer. Interviews with former users and former dealers now in treatment across the country support this finding.

- Tracking parent-teen drug sharing, 22 percent of whites reported that they had used drugs other than alcohol with their parents; 18 percent of blacks said they had used drugs other than alcohol with their parents and 22 percent of Hispanics said they had used drugs other than alcohol with their parents.

- Among urban residents 22 percent said they had done drugs other than alcohol with their parents, as compared to 17 percent of suburban residents.

Phoenix House commissioned Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, Inc. to survey a random sample of current residents at Phoenix House drug treatment programs in four states: New York, California, Florida and Texas. The survey of 582 respondents was conducted in April 2000 and involved a representative sample of the more than 5,000 residents of 70 Phoenix House programs across the nation. Residents responded to 80 questions about their drug history and their views on substance abuse treatment and policy issues.

Survey findings were confirmed by interviews conducted at Phoenix House treatment programs around the United States and are substantiated by findings about children and teens in research conducted for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

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Editor: Susan K. Boyer, RN
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