Half of the teenagers in grades 9-12 have tried alcohol. One third have tried marijuana.

Twenty percent have abused prescription pills. More than 10% have used ecstasy, abused cough syrup or inhalants.

Five percent have used harder drugs.

That information comes from a comprehensive new guide for parents to prevent substance abuse and intervene if a child is using. The guide shows how to recognize drug and alcohol abuse, and what to do about it.

The use of drugs is such a recognized problem that free drug test kits are now available to parents, along with the guide, at the Westfield Pharmacy.

For generations, parents have warned children away from drugs and alcohol. Now, science is clearly showing how right they were.

Drugs and alcohol are especially hazardous to the still developing brain of teenagers. One part of a teen’s brain is highly sensitive to novel stimuli, while another part, the prefrontal cortex that makes executive decisions, is still developing.

The combination is powerful. Pulled by new attractions and equipped with less than the full ability to make objective decisions, teens can choose an entirely different path in life, the self-destructive path of addiction.

With teen drug abuse on top of a national opioid epidemic, officials are working harder than ever to come up with solutions. Their message is not only heard in their homes, but in entire communities.

Community Connections, a Lincoln County agency on the forefront of the battle against drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse, recently made drug test kits available at the Westfield Pharmacy.

They consist of a urine sampler and analyzer, plus a booklet for parents.

The kits are paid by an anonymous donor, someone highly motivated to try and help combat the drug problem.

The booklet — a guide for parents — was put together by a group of high school parents, with help from scientists who created a “Community of Concern.”

The booklet discusses how to recognize symptoms, identify addictive substances and understand the lingo.

It also tells where to look for advice and support.

“If I was a parent, I wouldn’t know where to go, if these things were happening with my kids,” said Catiana Urrutia, a substance abuse prevention coordinator with Community Connections.

“The first step is to realize it is a problem,” Urrutia said, “to bring awareness and resources to bear. That is vital for any community,” Urrutia said the free test kits and booklet guides are the first part of a bigger campaign.

Catiana Urrutia

Posters are making their way out to the community – to grocery stores, clinics and schools – and educational speakers are being developed.


Adult abuse, statewide records

As Westfield Pharmacist Kim Riley looked over the materials. He said stronger efforts are underway to cut down on adult prescription drug abuse, too.

Riley said every single prescription is now entered in a statewide database that pharmacists can access. That started in January. If the number of prescriptions to a patient looks excessive, the pharmacist won’t fill the prescription.

An accessible database of medical information has been considered for years, but it was slow to develop, in part because of concerns about protecting a patient’s privacy. Lately, privacy concerns have been outweighed by the need for better enforcement and eliminate the scams to acquire prescription drugs and sell them on the street.

Riley said the state database has been used for controlled substance prescriptions for more than a year. Now, it’s used for all prescriptions.

“Doctor shopping” is one of the all-too-common scams. Scammers look for a doctor who will willingly prescribe drugs. They go to new doctors, and lie about how many prescriptions they need.

Riley said that was a widespread practice in the not-too-distant past.

“They would talk to doctors in different towns, even different states, to obtain prescriptions,” Riley said.

Riley said some patients pay cash, even if they have insurance, a sign that they are buying the drugs for resale. Hydrocodone and oxycodone are worth double or triple on the street what they are through a prescription.

In another new regulation, as of July 15, a patient has to provide a photo ID if a pharmacist asks for it, to verify the buyer is the person named on the prescription.

All these measures will hopefully cut down on drug abuse, and ultimately, the crimes that come with it.

Organizers say North Platte has an advantage, because it is a not a large city.

Urrutia is relatively new to North Platte. She grew up in Omaha and went to college at UNK. She enjoys communities such as Kearney and North Platte.

“I like the size,” she said. “It’s easier to get the message across in a smaller community.”

Urrutia said parents should consider their options if they suspect a child is abusing drugs, and learn more about the situation. The free parent’s guide is a great resource.

“They need to talk to their kids about it,” Urrutia said. “It is an extremely hard topic. No parent wants to think of it, but it happens.”