October 8, 2008

Doctors Chat Online With Teens About Drug Abuse

U.S. government scientists convened in an online chat room Tuesday to answer questions about drugs and alcohol coming from students during the National Institute on Drug Abuse's second-ever Drug Facts Chat Day. 

"How many drinks does it take to get you drunk?" asked an anonymous teenager at George Washington High School in California. "For a person of normal weight not used to alcohol, about four-five drinks within one hour," came the answer.

Another student from Sanborn Regional High School in New Hampshire asks: "Is it true that pot is not addicting? I heard rumors it wasn't?"

The answer: "Yes. Long-term marijuana use leads to addiction in some people. That is, they cannot control their urges to seek out and use marijuana, even though it negatively affects their family relationships, school performance, and recreational activities."

By noon, scientists had received about 6,000 questions. Answers were not immediate, but came within the hour so students could check back in before the end of the school day.

NIDA researcher Joseph Frascella said he was asked several questions about drugs' effects on the brain.

"The sophistication of some of the questions suggests that they're pretty knowledgeable about drugs," Frascella said.

Michelle Ngwafon, an 11th grader at Rockville High School asked how long it takes for date rape drugs to take effect. She knew someone who had been given such a drug but was not raped, she said.

"Date rape is unwanted sexual contact from someone you know, may have just met, and/or thought you could trust," researchers said in responding to her query. "A number of drugs have been used in date rape because they can become slipped in someone's drink and have no taste or smell. These include ketamine, rohypnol and gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB). These drugs can sedate a person and make them forget what happens to them."

Ngwafon said the chat room was a good idea that might help some kids who haven't tried drugs, but she was doubtful it would change the habits of those already involved.

"The people who already do drugs, I think they already know the side effects and they just don't care," she said.

Among youths from ages 12-17, about one in 10 acknowledge illicit drug use within the past month. The government says drug use in that age category has dropped slightly since 2002, as has the level of alcohol and tobacco use. About 15.6 percent of youths in that age group acknowledge alcohol use in the past month and about 9.8 percent say they smoked cigarettes.

Wendy Roit, a teacher at Rockville High School, who helped coordinate the question-and-answer session from the school, said she's a fan of using a chat room to let students ask questions without being embarrassed.

And while there were loads of serious questions, some helped lighten the mood, such as the one from "Yeah um, kay" at Sanborn Regional High School in New Hampshire: "Are you guys doctors or recovering alcoholics/drug addicts?"

"Hi there!," replied Richard Denisco. "We all have advanced degrees such as masters degrees, PhD.'s and MD's. We have all worked in the addiction field in some capacity - some as counselors, and some as recovering addicts. This allows us to give you the 'real story' and not just some information from a book. Thanks for your question."


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