Teenagers and Party Drugs

Agonising over ecstasy: What do we tell our kids about party drugs in the era of the backyard mix?

IT was a horrible story — every parent’s nightmare. A number of years ago the daughter of an acquaintance died. She was only 18 and had just finished her Higher School Certificate. She was a lovely, normal girl. It was her first trip abroad. She landed in Europe. And went to a club. Of course no one ever knows the details of these things, but her parents were rung in the middle of the night to say their daughter had died on the dance floor.

The autopsy showed ecstasy in her system. She’d been offered party drugs from what’s known in the industry as ‘‘a bad batch’’. The story, and those like it, are more prevalent than anyone could imagine.

Which brings to light a controversial issue. I’ve been battling with friends over my views regarding teenagers and drugs.

I’ve told my daughter all I could about drugs, although there wasn’t much she didn’t know. But she didn’t know I would say this: That I will support her right to try anything she wants to in life — as long as it’s safe.

Let me explain. I don’t like the idea of her taking party drugs. But she most likely will try them at some stage. Almost all kids of her generation do, and it’s folly to think otherwise. What I don’t want is the dreaded call in the middle of the night. As a responsible parent, I’ve recited the old ‘‘shrivelled brain’’ routine; the stunting of synapses. I regularly go to neuroscience conferences, so I know how damaging even the lightest of party drugs or alcohol can be to the teenage brain.

But I know this won’t stop her when she’s in the company of friends and the music is blaring and everyone’s high.

So I told her something most parents never do. The truth. Party drugs can be fun. But that I don’t take chemically mixed or designer drugs for one reason. Backyard operations.

Four friends can take a pill and be fine, and the fifth dies. An adult acquaintance of mine recently ended up in emergency; the rest of his clan were fine. I explained that poisons can be added: addictive substances to get kids hooked. But, more often than not, batches are simply badly mixed, with lethal doses of a chemical potentially ending up in one tablet. Yours? It’s a game of Russian roulette.

She was furious with me. She yelled that I’d frightened her too much, and now she was going to be worried and paranoid every time she went partying. Then she stormed off. My honesty inspired a more potent reaction than the threat of a shrivelled brain ever would.
What’s your view on kids and drug safety?

Please give your thoughts,  Press comments above


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27 Responses to Teenagers and Party Drugs

  1. Dr Pat Gibney 10 March 2013 at 12:16 am #

    Yup – Been there – Done that!
    Never hide your own problems & experience from your kids!
    I used Purple Hearts to study but they were made in the 70s by a reputable company.
    I love Omnopon after a motorcycle accident & have never had it in my bag because I can’t trust myself with it!
    They know, only too well, my fondness for fine scotch & wine.
    But I made them all read William Burrows “The Naked Lunch” and set an exam. I forced them to sit through “Train Spotting” although it made me queasy .
    They’re all over 25 now & none will take anything unknown or inject anything1
    I think I’ve done my job,
    Go with Light,
    Dr Pat

  2. Inigo 10 November 2011 at 5:32 pm #

    You believe, and claim to have told your daughter that “party drugs can be fun”; you wrote: “I don’t take chemically mixed or designer drugs for one reason”.

    If the only reason you aren’t a junkie is fear of ingesting a drug from one of the batches which are “simply badly mixed”, you’re hardly likely to impart an anti-drug message to anyone.

  3. Ruth Ostrow 4 November 2011 at 2:41 pm #

    Nice to hear from you again, Rob

  4. The Golden Fleece 2 November 2011 at 7:26 am #

    No Thank you Ruth.
    I love your work. I can still recall sitting in the Enmore Theatre Cafe having brekkie about 10 years or so ago, and reading your article about a workshop you were attending. There was a woman with lots of make up on and a little OTT.

    After being matched up in a group with her, and getting to know her, there was a whole other side to her not feeling like she could make it out the door with her make up and hair being OTT etc.

    That story (along with other like the one where you talk about your Mum letting you know she loves you by cooking for an army when you visit!) has stuck in mind, so i do do prejudge people by their look. And the story about your Mum and Food rang true with my Grandmother and Mother, it was loving that it was pointed out, so instead of freaking out about all the carbs they were trying to fatten me up with, i was grateful that they had gone to all the time and care and love to making this banquet come true.

    You are well and truly loved in our household !
    x (ps pls excuse typo’s, i’m a crap typerist).

  5. Lucy 1 November 2011 at 10:36 pm #

    Actually, I’ve just read what “RW” wrote; joy is not spelled “f-u-n”. How right this is!! Ours is a culture of instant gratification and the right and entitlement to Fun. Ask any highschool teacher how they go about teaching kids who think every activity should be “Fun”. What’s fun about the Periodic Table or Physics? The people for whom it isn’t fun will the people who GET IT!! Oh yes.

  6. Lucy 1 November 2011 at 10:28 pm #

    “I hope I’ve trained my daughter to be an independent thinker”! Ruth, I understand your objective here but every parent I know, every, has wanted the same thing for their child. You cannot impose such rational thinking on a set of young shoulders and expect an idealistic response. They will simply follow the peer group, no matter what. That is, until they GROW UP. We must be cautious not to mix permissiveness up with empowerment in our young people. They’ve got enough already by way of freedoms – this is just another one. From my point of view (as an ex high-school teacher) I saw kids desperate for boundaries and BEING TOLD WHAT TO DO, instead of given multiple, well considered choices. That only makes parents feel better and confuses kids. I was the same with mine, but one turned to serious drugs and now is married to a head-case and the rest of the family avoids them both. I keep repeating the word to myself and my husband, “Choices”. There it is.

  7. Rob Moore 1 November 2011 at 8:50 pm #

    Hello Ruth,
    Still writing interesting columns on the tough topics- well done.

    It’s hard not to be a hippocrite -isn’t it.. Late 70’s early 80’s was my turn and bloody hell- the extreme alcohol and driving etc was not good but we only have one turn at it all.

    I think that showing them (I’ve got 3) that you aren’t a prude but highlight the dangers- gives them something to think on and beyond that -you just have to hope for the best like our parents did!

  8. Patsy 31 October 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    Hi Ruth – thanks for your candid and honest piece. I too struggle with this issue and dread my children (11 and 9) getting to the age where I must address it. Some of my most memorable, fun and perspective-gaining memories include ecstacy, but becoming a parent I grew out of the lifestage and now find joy in quite simple pleasures, which is a natural progression for most. I’m amazed at how clueless so many people of my generation are about drugs, ‘just say no!’, oh, OK then. Kids are programmed to seek out new experiences, fact. The chasm between ‘grown up’ social beliefs and real life is wide and confounding. As you say we can but teach our kids perspective and common sense and hope it prevails when they cross with risk in their lives (of which party drugs are just one of many).

  9. RW 30 October 2011 at 6:58 pm #

    It depends on where you’re coming from. I didn’t do any drugs including cigarettes and had a great time with friends as we grew up. My older children (17, 18, 20y.o.) haven’t had anything other than some alcohol (mainly wine with meals) and also have a great time with friends. It’s probably simply based on a profound idea of where we find deepest joy in life. “Joy” is not spelt “f-u-n”. We aim to help our children to learn to think and be prepared to say “no” to things that are problematic. Talking through issues openly is vital. Schools certainly don’t teach people to think!

  10. Ruth Ostrow 30 October 2011 at 6:27 pm #

    Thank you Golden Fleece, for both your courageous story (always tough to admit these things) and for your kind words to me. 🙂

  11. The Golden Fleece 30 October 2011 at 11:07 am #

    Dear Ruth,
    I loved your article in yesterday’s Australian. I was a narcotic addict for 4 years back in my late teens early 20’s (am almost 40 now – so half a lifetime ago). I wanted to comment on how my family loving me uncondiontally and letting me know that when i was ready to clean up, they would be by my side.
    Quite a lot fell beside me, and i am lucky enough to have pulled through with my families support.
    I think the way you handled the discussion is admirable, and i will be giving my 2 boys a similiar talk to theto the one you had with your daughter in years to come.

    PS – You and Mystic Medusa are the 2 best reasons to purchase the Australian !

  12. Dismayed 29 October 2011 at 4:14 pm #

    Well done. If more parents had an open relationship with their children they would be able to have these frank discussions with confidence. I hope my efforts will lead to well adjusted, sensible contributors to our society that make decisios for themselves based on as much information as they can find. Then take ownership/responsibilty for the results, good or bad.

  13. Ruth Ostrow 29 October 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    Yes Max, sadly we have to admit the huge cost of legal drugs, when tests have not been done rigorously nor for long enough.

  14. Ruth Ostrow 29 October 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    Marijuana is safer than chemically mixed drugs because you can roll it yourself and see what you are getting. I wouldn’t advise accepting a pre-rolled joint for the very fact that there can be addictive chemicals added.

  15. Max 29 October 2011 at 11:56 am #

    Ruth I agree kids of this generation will try. They do so, as alcohol is so expensive at venues now that drugs has become a cheap night out. If they weren’t illegal then they would be pure with very little chance of dying from them. Yes people may die from illegal drugs but the percentage is miniscule compared to the thousands who die every year from the “legal” drugs the govt collects tax on

  16. Tony Alexander 29 October 2011 at 9:27 am #

    In his book Gomorrah, Roberto Saviano mentions how the drug lords will test their product, cut heroin, by giving it out to known druggies. If the druggies die, then the product isn’t any good.
    The moral of the story is that you have to be wary of anyone offering you free drugs.

  17. lilian@roth .id.au 28 October 2011 at 9:45 pm #

    You are on dangerous teritory here, which drugs are safe? even ordinary mariahuna can be tampered with and additives inserted. Many kids have died taking extasy and yes, it might be fun at the time but HOW do you stop it if evryone is doing it. Its an on going problem and all parents are scared, but what is the answer? Even shows on t.v. and movies show the drug taking as hip and fun. I feel scared for our youth . Thanks for bringing this subject to notice, we were all young once and did try stuff, how lucky were we to escape bad batches of pills or pot!!!!!

  18. harry martin 28 October 2011 at 4:52 pm #

    Good afternoon all,
    Another aspect to the drug story is to suggest that by buying into the products you are probably enabling a lot of very vicious criminal activity that inflicts serious violence on many people and helps corrupt our society with bribery and corruption of many of those involved in law enforcement.
    I tried this argument on my own three boys who seemed not to give it a second thought but it did make it easier for me to insist that we would not accept drug usage in our own house.

  19. Ruth Ostrow 28 October 2011 at 4:45 pm #

    I make my own decisions despite what my parents did. I would hope I’ve trained my daughter to be an independent thinker.

  20. Ruth Ostrow 28 October 2011 at 4:44 pm #

    Yes I love studying the data on micro expressions. Have you read Paul Eckman’s brilliant work? He is the true life main character behind and the TV show Lie to Me – or rather the man it is based on.

  21. Ruth Ostrow 28 October 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    No I put the question not answer up on Facebook and on Twitter. I am just one voice, I would like to hear other’s ideas of how to deal with this hot issue. I have no definitive answer.

  22. Meredith 28 October 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    Go Ruth you are a trail blazer in modern thinking

  23. Concerned mum 28 October 2011 at 4:36 pm #

    While I hate hypocrasy I think you are very wrong to say things like this. You have a responsibility to not suggesting you concede drugs are fun or whatever. There may be young people reading your regular column blog post, and are not going to receive this information with the integrity or care with which you tell your daughter. I noticed this message also went up on your facebook page.

  24. KeepitNice 28 October 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    There’s nothing wrong with being honest – there isn’t enough of it between parents and kids. Good on you for respecting her enough.

  25. Hilda 28 October 2011 at 4:31 pm #

    I agree and disagree. The reason I disagree with what you’ve said has been said by other bloggers. My view of why it’s okay to be honest with your daughter is that teenagers sense honesty. And if, as you have implied, you were a party girl – then what’s the use of trying to bluff her with a wry smile and a give away micro-expression. She will respect you more in the end for your honesty.

  26. YourJoking 28 October 2011 at 4:09 pm #

    Hi Ruth
    Wow that’s a bit excessive isn’t it? What if your daughter follows what you do not what you say? In the game of roulette you have good chances of surviving. Teenagers are risk aversive so will drive in speeding cars and do crazy things despite the Russian roulette of it all. So I don’t think that approach works either. But having said all this I’m at a loss to answer the question with two young ones about to enter adolecence soon enough.

  27. StephenK 28 October 2011 at 4:05 pm #

    Hi Ruth
    You are very out there on this one. I have to disagree. It is never okay to condone drugs as “fun” but I concede your point.

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