Teens, Technology, And Drugs: An Inside Look

Last Editorial Review: 7/19/2006
How Technology Is Hooking Teens Up With Drugs
Nation's Drug Czar Connects With Teens in Treatment, Offers Parents Solutions

CHICAGO, ILL.-America's teens are using technology like text messaging and the Internet to facilitate their drug use, and other are being exposed to drugs through technologies such as chat rooms and social networking sites. To highlight this growing problem, the Nation's Drug Czar today hosted a roundtable with adolescents in drug treatment to discuss the many ways technology aided their substance use and to also offer parents advice on monitoring their teens' digital activities.

"I was always searching [the Internet] for new ways to get high," said Sean, age 17, a teen in treatment at Pathway Family Center in Indianapolis. "My friends and I ordered 'legal marijuana,' which was terrible. I found out how to grow marijuana, how to make it more potent, how to crush pills. I linked my IM [instant messenger] to my favorite drug sites so that my friends could find them, too. When my parents wanted to drug test me, I found out online how to detox so I could get around the tests and show up clean."

Amy, age 17, also at Pathway in Indianapolis, said other technologies helped support her drug habit. "My cell phone was the most important tool for me to get drugs. I kept all of my drug dealers' names in my phone book on my cell phone and would sometimes put them under other names so nobody could find out," she said.

Research shows that teens are frequently online unsupervised and often engage in risky behaviors. The Pew Internet and American Life Project reported in 2005 that 64 percent of online teens say that most teens do things on the Internet that they wouldn't want their parents to know about. And nearly half (48%) of 16- to 17-year-olds report that their parents or guardians know "very little" or "nothing" about what they do on the Internet, according to a 2006 survey conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU) for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Cox Communications.

"The pusher has moved to the PC. With one click of the mouse, teens can enter a virtual world of drugs," said John P. Walters, Director of National Drug Control Policy. "The Internet can teach teens how to buy or make drugs, how to use different drugs and other products to get high, and how to beat drug tests."

A noted teen expert, Peter Zollo of Teenage Research Unlimited, stressed that teens are using technology all the time, everywhere. "Almost 90 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds use the Internet; half of them use it daily. About 19 million teens instant message, and 60 percent of teens have their own cell phone."

Teens don't have to be looking for pro-drug information to be at risk. Bogus pharmacies also flood e-mail inboxes with spam pushing prescription drugs. "Drug dealers lurk in chat rooms just like pedophiles, targeting teens with offers of drugs," Walters said. "To protect your teens in the digital world, go where they go. Do not let new technologies and innovations get in the way of good parenting."

Walters identified three actions parents can take to help keep their teens safe:

    1. Learn about the digital devices your teen uses. Visit their Web pages or blogs and know who is in their cell phone contact list.
    2. Limit the time your teen spends online, put computers in a common area of the house to more easily monitor their use.
    3. Set limits on which Web sites, chat rooms, games, or blogs they can and cannot visit, and discuss consequences for breaking these rules.

The Office of National Drug Policy (ONDCP) is publishing an Open Letter to Parents this week in the top 27 media markets in national and local newspapers, and in select magazines, which focuses on the ways in which technology can aid teen drug use and outlines how parents can monitor teens' digital activities. Seven health, parenting, and media education organization signed the letter, including: American Academy of Pediatrics; Cable in the Classroom; i-SAFE, Inc.; National Institute on Media and the Family; Partnership for a Drug-Free America; PTA; and Web Wise Kids.

Parents can visit www.TheAntiDrug.com for additional advice and information. The site features a complete, easy-to-understand tutorial about technology in teens' lives, tips on decoding teens' lingo online, as well as specific tools parents can use to monitor their teen's use of technology.

Since its inception in 1998, the ONDCP's National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign has conducted outreach to millions of parents and teens and hundreds of communities to prevent and reduce teen drug use. Counting on an unprecedented blend of public and private partnerships, non-profit community service organizations, volunteerism and youth-to-youth communications, the Campaign is designed to reach Americans of diverse backgrounds with effective anti-drug messages.

For additional information, read the Media Campaign Fact Sheets: Teens & Technology article.

Source: ONDCP National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, www.MediaCampaign.org.


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