06/29/14 — Heroin: A guide for parents

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Heroin: A guide for parents

By John Joyce
Published in News on June 29, 2014 3:56 PM

Fear stops many parents’ conversations with their children about drugs before they start.

Fear of what they might find out.

Fear about where the discussion might lead.

Fear of what the neighbors, their families or their friends might think.

And the fear that once they have the answer they then have to do something — and they do not know what the right “something” is.

But Dr. Venkata Jonnalagadda says how the conversation begins is not important.

It is having the discussion in the first place that matters.

And the best way to make sure it does is to open the lines of communication long before there is a need.

“You can never go wrong making sure you have good communication skills with your children,” said Dr. Jonnalagadda, a board-certified psychiatrist and the medical director for Eastpointe Medical Care Organization.

And that process starts early — because exposure to influences begins early, she said.

The average age for a child’s first experimentation with drugs — nicotine, alcohol or narcotics — used to be 12 years old.

“The average age today is 10, and in some cases 8 years old,” Dr. Jonnalagadda said.

So what do you say? How do you parent to keep your child away from influences that might lead them in the wrong direction?

Dr. Jonnalagadda suggests persistence — and rules.

A child wants to know they are loved unconditionally, she said. Part of that is knowing there are limits.

“Children love to be loved and affirmed, but they have to know what the rules are, just like in school,” she said.

And if you suspect that your child is using drugs, ask early and often.

“Handle it as a smolder before it becomes a big, hot fire,” Dr. Jonnalagadda said.

An effective conversation begins with knowledge and a clear conscience.

Dr. Jonnalagadda suggests downloading brochures or literature from accredited websites, such as the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry site AACAP.org, which deal with drug abuse and addiction.

“Leave it in their room, on their dresser or on their bed. Parents can even write on it, ‘Love, Mom,’ or ‘Love, Dad,’ or ‘Let’s talk,’” she said.

Secondly, parents need to know the language.

“It may sound funny, but go to Urbandictionary.com,” she said.

The website translates slang into common-speak for those not hip to today’s lingo.

Dr. Jonnalagadda realized the need for such a site while talking with a 10-year-old patient.

“I asked him what he was looking forward to this weekend, and he said he had been invited to a kick party,” she said.

The patient didn’t quite know what a kick party was.

Neither did his mother.

Neither did Dr. Jonnalagadda — until she researched it.

“A kick party is where a group of kids come together to have their first experience with drugs,” she said. “Each of them bring something with them, pills, and they take them.”

And don’t let your own past experiences — and mistakes — keep you from addressing the issue now with your children.

In this case, the past is the past, the doctor says — and adult decisions are just that, adult decisions.

Feeling hypocritical is normal for a mother who smokes a pack a day when trying to talk to her daughter about smoking, or for a father who routinely has a beer while grilling out trying to talk to his son about drinking.

Having made mistakes with drugs in your own life does not disqualify you from speaking to your children about the right choices, Dr. Jonnalagadda added.

“One thing I always tell the parents I work with is to think about driving. We as adults have licenses to drive, but our 8-year-old is too young to drive. Yet, we still teach our kids about car safety, seat belts, to look both ways before crossing the street,” she said.

Let the child know the reason for the conversation is for his or her protection and his or her well-being.

And don’t let the fear of what might come next stop the discussion. Let your child know it is OK to ask for help — and to admit there is a problem in the first place.

And give yourself a break, too, Dr. Jonnalagadda said.

“We have to get over the stigma attached to getting help. The concern should be more for our children’s well-being and future than for the shame and embarrassment we might feel,” she said.

Normalizing the conversation and having a frequent and open dialogue is key, she said.

When the lines of communication are open, the child is free to ask questions.

“You don’t always have to know the answer. When your child comes to you with questions about something, you have already won,” Dr. Jonnalagadda said.

Sidebar — Where to get help, locally.

Eastpointe 24-hour hotline operates 365 days a year.


Eastpointe is a Local Managed Care Organization (MCO) that manages, coordinates, and monitors the mental health, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and substance use and addiction services in 12 eastern counties of North Carolina.  The service connects those in need with providers who can help.

Waynesboro Family Clinic

1706 Wayne Memorial Drive



Walk-ins are welcome Mon.- Fri. 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Business hours, Mon. - Thurs. 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Fri. 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Carolina Treatment Center

1700 E. Ash St. suite 201


Admissions: Mon. - Fri 5 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Open 7 days a week.