SSPD: Teen Safety Week highlights danger of substance use |

SSPD: Teen Safety Week highlights danger of substance use

Patty Oakland
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Teenagers, as your brain matures, it becomes more focused on rewards and taking risks. At the same time, teens are pushing parents for greater freedom as they explore their personalities.

This time can be a challenging tightrope to walk for both teens and parents. Your brain is developing in ways to set you up to be an independent adult, but there are still a lot of ways your parents or guardians and the community want to support you in developing strong skills for successful independence.

Right now, your brain is developing faster and more efficient ways to process information, called “use-it or lose-it.” Therefore, your use of substances is linked to the highest risk for developing a substance use disorder, while simultaneously “losing” connections with key memory abilities.

Learning (which is a lifetime skill) is negatively impacted by substance use as a teenager, especially when use is frequent and heavy. The CDC reports that 15% of high school students report having used illicit or injection drugs, and 14% of students have misused prescription opioids. Teens who experiment with drugs and other substances put their long-term health and safety at risk.

I am passionate about prevention work, and it started specifically with a patient telling me “I didn’t know” about drug use and the effects on their body. We experience symptoms because of the chemical reactions occurring in our bodies. We take ibuprofen because we tweak our knee skiing and then feel better. Why? Because the ibuprofen disrupts a chemical pathway that in turn causes less pain and decreased inflammation.

However, too much ibuprofen can cause damage to your stomach, intestines, kidney failure and other serious problems. That is why it is important to follow the directions on over-the-counter medications. Directed dosages are science, not a guess. All medications have therapeutic effects, but also can be dangerous if not used appropriately.

When a provider prescribes a medication, they are looking at the entire you. They are considering side effects, blood pressures, heart rates, weight, height and things personal to you. When you take your medication in ways that it is not prescribed or if you take someone else’s medications, there is a long list of concerns in how the medications affect your body. Everything in our body is based on chemical reactions, and substance use is expediting new chemical reactions.

Knowledge is power. The internet is a great place to learn, but you must take information from resources that are informed, not creating the narrative that just wants to be heard. I empower you after reading this article to turn to the internet with an informed lens, to learn about why someone experiences effects of drugs. All substances have effects on our body, but for time’s sake I will highlight one.

The first use of cocaine begins the chain reaction of changes in the brain and throughout the body, some short-term and others long-term. To pick on one, it is constricting blood vessels while also increasing blood pressure. This is like attaching a straw with a gasket to your spigot and cranking the water on high. So, what could happen? Massive risk of cardiac arrest and stroke. So as your heart rate is elevated and you feel like you are more alert, what is actually happening is that your body is trying to regulate this catastrophic event at a cellular level and keep you alive.

Illegal substances are not regulated. They are not created in sterile environments with regulated products or measurements. People often have allergic reactions to use of illegal substances, as it is not known what they are consuming. Trips and highs are changing the chemical reactions in your body and how it works together. That especially taxes your nervous system and can permanently rewire it. With substances, you can rewire your body with only one use.

It is important to talk about substance abuse and misuse. Teens who use illicit drugs or misuse prescription drugs are at a high risk of injury, risky sexual behaviors, dating violence, criminal justice involvement, school dropout, mental health problems and loss of life. As parents and guardians, encourage honesty and openness in conversations, focus on behaviors — not the person, establish rules and consequences, and contact a health care provider or counselor for help if you think your teen is using or misusing drugs.

Yampa Valley Teenagers, we care about you and the choices you make. Any substance use is misuse and abuse. Look for the ways to expand your experiences without substances and enjoy the people you are with and the beautiful place we get to call home. Come to the Teen Safety Fair from 4-6 p.m. Thursday, May 11, to connect with people who are standing up for your safety. Come talk about your concerns and opinions, and other tips that have worked in the past. We are all in the same ‘boat and remember that you have a crew to support you.

For information or to get involved, visit

Patty Oakland
John F. Russell

Patty Oakland is the civilian investigator for the Steamboat Springs Police Department.

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