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Posted on Wed, Feb 16, 2011 : 10:31 a.m.

Inside Washtenaw County Public Health: Drugs 101 seminar helps parents detect problems & connect with teens

By Washtenaw County Public Health

staffordj_Jenna Bacolor 2007.jpg

Jenna Bacolor, WCPH

At first glance, the room looked like a typical teenager’s: stereo, lava lamp, sparkly purple curtains, and a bed and floor strewn with the common artifacts of adolescence. Looking closer, however, I could see that among the food wrappers, clothes and other items littering the floor, there were tiny packages of smokeless tobacco, a pill bottle and a beer bong. What I learned later was that nearly every other object cleverly hid even more drugs.

The mock teenager’s bedroom was part of the “Drugs 101: What Parents Need to Know” presentation offered recently by the St. Joseph Mercy Healthy System’s Health Exploration Station. Attendees were invited to study the room’s content and try to guess, of the 100-or-so items in the room, how many contained drugs or drug paraphernalia. (I won’t give away the answer — but it was a lot more than I originally thought!)

Presenters Cheryl Phillips and Gretchen Nachazel gave a lively, interactive presentation explaining different drugs of choice favored by youth of various ages and how to detect if your own child might be using or hiding them. It was alarming to discover how easy it is for kids to order (right off the internet) common household objects with secret compartments for hiding drugs — things like books, coffee mugs, lipstick tubes and highlighters.



These can make it especially hard for parents who suspect their kids are using drugs but can’t find them in the house. (See for more information on this.)

I’m sure that Cheryl and Gretchen are used to seeing abject panic on the faces of parents who attend this presentation. But there is hope! They assured the audience that parents can be very effective in helping their kids avoid drugs — through caring communication and establishing and enforcing clear rules. A few of their tips:

  • Look for opportunities in everyday conversations to talk about drug use and why they should avoid it — these can be while driving in the car, reading something in the news, etc.
  • Get involved in your kids’ activities. It shows support and gives you the chance to get to know their friends and friends’ parents
  • If your teenager asks to go to a party, and you don’t know the parents who are hosting, call them and offer to send over a case of water or soda. This gives you a good excuse for calling to find out if there will be adults present and/or alcohol allowed.
  • Come up with a code word that your child can use either by text or phone to tell you that she is in a difficult situation and needs you to come get her. For example, she’s somewhere where people have started using drugs or something else that’s dangerous and needs to get rescued without letting her friends know.

Cheryl summed it up best when she said, “Your kids have enough friends. They need parents.” Of course, one of the most effective strategies parents can use to keep their kids off drugs is modeling. If you smoke, your kids are more likely to smoke. If all family gatherings involve a cooler full of beer, it sends a message that the family can’t have fun together without drinking.

Our community offers many resources to parents who want to learn more about youth drug use prevention, suspect their kids may be using or need help with treatment options. Several local agencies are funded by the Washtenaw/Livingston Coordinating Agency within the Washtenaw Community Health Organization to provide substance abuse prevention and treatment services in the two counties.

With more and more teens misusing prescription drugs, parents need to know how to safely dispose of that old post-surgery pain medication. Visit to see local pharmacies that take back any medications, no questions asked.

Other local resources (not exhaustive!):

  • Dawn Farm - treatment services and an education series
  • Home of New Vision therapeutic services are open to any chemically dependent person who has a desire to live a life free from the bondage of alcohol and drug addiction

I encourage parents to attend an upcoming Drugs 101 presentation and see for yourself what’s new in the world of drugs since when you were a teenager. I guarantee there will be some information that surprises you and that you’ll walk out the door with more strategies to help your own kids stay drug-free. A list of upcoming Drugs 101 sessions is available at:

Jenna Bacolor is the Health Promotion/Disease Prevention Supervisor for the Washtenaw County Public Health Department, and she hopes more parents are able to attend this presentation. She can be reached at 734-544-2969.



Fri, Feb 18, 2011 : 4:34 p.m.

The Drugs 101 program is absolutely an amazing eye-opener for adults. So many things are different in terms of drug use than they were when we were teens. Having presented this program numerous times over the past two years, I've seen the impact that it has had on families. We've received so many notes/letters from parents indicating that after the program their suspicions were confirmed and they now have their teen in treatment. To know that educating parents about current drug use trends has saved the lives of nearly a dozen teens in just over two years is truly humbling as an educator. Unfortunately there are always empty seats at these programs, so some families/parents are missing out on this extrememly valuable information. We really encourage everyone to take time to attend one of these programs. They are almost always free, as an organization in the community usually sponsors it. The information you as an adult gain, can save someones life - it may not be your own child, but could be a niece, nephew, grand child, scout, friend of your child's, etc. And if any organization is interested in sponsoring this valuable program in their community, please call 734-398-7518.