Chemical Health Blog - Let's Talk About It

  • Let’s Talk About It - Chemical health support

    Posted by Colleen O'Neil on 10/30/2020

    As I was thinking about what I wanted to focus on this month, I looked around and realized that we have been in pandemic mode for close to eight months. It feels as if we have gone backward yet the calendar tells us we continue to move forward. Eight long, exhausting, frustrating and mind-boggling months.


    I then think about our students. I think about what they are challenged with and then wonder how they’re managing. Sadly, for those of us in the chemical health field, we know that students are struggling now more than ever and that substance use has increased due to the challenges of isolation from friends, the real-life struggles of COVID-19, the lack of support from daily connections with others, and the inability to know how to navigate it all. As a parent/guardian, we question what we can do, what is available and how to access available resources. If you believe that your student needs help, there are many ways to get connected and many great resources at your fingertips. If you need help navigating, this roadmap is a great resource. Also, see a list of community resources available.


    As a district, we continue to implement programs and support where and when we can. At the start of the 2020-21 school year, the district began using a web-based program, VapeEducate, to help educate those students who receive a chemical health violation due to vaping. This program is designed for middle and high school students, and provides everything one needs to know about the negative effects of vaping both nicotine and marijuana. Having students complete this program, then processing with students after completion, helps us educate and support those who are struggling with vaping. A great resource for students who would like to quit vaping, is My Life, My Quit. There is a lot of great information on this website and I encourage you to spend some time reading through it. Why not do so with your student by your side? It would be a great way to start the dialogue. We have also created a new partnership with Hazelden Betty Ford for individual and family support and continue to rely on an existing partnership with Know the Truth for group support. We will have more updates regarding these partnerships next month.


    The message I hope you leave with is one of hope. While we are all trying to work through the challenges that are in front of us due to the pandemic, we must not lose sight of the fact that there is help out there — either in or out of the school setting. We have programs in place that may be beneficial to your student and they’re only a phone call or email away. Please reach out to me for guidance and direction: colleen.oneil@ahschools.us or 763-506-1145.


    As always, I hope you’re able to find ways to have important conversations with your student and when possible, lead out with, “Let’s talk about it!” Stay safe, stay positive and most importantly — stay connected with your student.

     

    Colleen O'Neil

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Colleen O’Neil, LADC, CPP
    Anoka-Hennepin School District Chemical Health Prevention Specialist
    Phone: 763-506-1145
    Email: colleen.oneil@ahschools.us

    Comments (-1)
  • Let’s Talk About It: Importance of prevention

    Posted by Colleen O'Neil on 9/25/2020

    (09/25/2020) We hear the phrase “new normal” being used often these days, and for many of us, we are trying to figure out what that really means and what normal looks like.  

     

    The current new normal for those of us who work with students needing chemical health support is trying to figure out how to get to those students who are struggling with substance use or misuse during these challenging times. For those of us who work in prevention, we are trying to figure out the best way to connect and support students and families while trying to find creative ways of doing so since normal is no longer applicable. Our contact with students face-to-face is limited — but that does not mean the need is not there. We continue to assess the needs and connect in ways that we have never experienced. 

     

    It’s important that our students and their families know where to turn if they need support. At Anoka-Hennepin, we continue to be committed to providing services and support both in the schools and in the community.       

     

    One question that I get often is: “How do I know if my student needs chemical health support?”  My response is often the same: “What have you noticed lately?” This is where it gets tricky.  

     

    • Have you noticed mood swings? 
    • Has your student been isolating more?  
    • Have you noticed some unusual smells (often sweet-smelling, but not always)?  
    • Has your student been sleeping more?  
    • Are they taking care of themselves and eating as usual? 

     

    How do you know, as a parent, if it is typical teenage behavior versus something bigger?  

     

    These are big questions and should be asked. I suggest that as a parent or caregiver, take this time to make a commitment to connect with your student in a way you may not have done before. Doing so will allow you to really get in there and have some conversations that you may not have had otherwise. It will also give you an opportunity to intervene more quickly if needed and to connect your student with support if the need arises. It may be helpful to ask your student if you can have the conversation, even starting it by saying, “Let’s talk about it!” When the conversations happen organically, they often tend to be more meaningful and valued. This is when we are able to make the biggest impact.

     

    Next month I will share some exciting news regarding our support and services around chemical health. We are in the final stages of planning and implementation and I am excited about the collaborations we have with those in the community. As a district, we continue to look at ways to help prevent, educate and support our students in order for them to be successful both in and out of the school setting. 


    If you have any questions, concerns or comments feel free to contact me at 763-506-1145 or colleen.oneil@ahschools.us.

     

    Colleen O'Neil

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Colleen O’Neil, LADC, CPP
    Anoka-Hennepin School District Chemical Health Prevention Specialist
    Phone: 763-506-1145
    Email: colleen.oneil@ahschools.us

    Comments (-1)
  • Let’s Talk About It! - Helping Our Seniors

    Posted by Colleen O'Neil on 5/22/2020

    (05/22/2020) This month’s topic was going to be about summer and the freedom that many of our students would have experienced, with a focus on prom, graduation parties, and other milestones students often partake in had it not been for COVID-19. While the pandemic continues to unfold around us, I want to spend some time focusing on our graduating seniors and the sense of loss (and grief) that each of them may be experiencing. It’s important to make sure that our seniors feel supported in their feelings and that they have healthy coping skills in place to avoid any negative consequences that could lead to substance use and misuse, mental health problems or family issues.


    Missing out on senior milestones can be tough on our seniors and we need to be extra attentive to those who are struggling with these losses. If we don’t recognize and acknowledge the pain and unfairness in this, we leave the door open for our students to find other ways to manage. Often, one of those ways is to use a mood-altering substance to find some relief from the constant worry, anxiety, anger and depression that COVID-19 has created. Here is a great article from NPR that helps explain what those challenges are and how we can help our seniors (and other teens) cope. Another great resource is a video from the Youth Service Bureau, a non-profit organization committed to supporting youth in Washington County.


    We have all felt the need to escape at one point or another. As adults, we have a wealth of experience and knowledge that allows us to do so, in most cases, appropriately and safely. Teens, on the other hand, may lack the experience and in some cases, the coping skills, to manage appropriately. Because their brains are not fully developed they may resort to using a mood-altering drug to find some relief, as the high felt during drug or alcohol use directly affects the reward center of the brain. Additionally, the memory of the high remains, making it difficult for the teen to avoid repeating - leaving them vulnerable to substance use issues.

     

    • This short video from the National Institute on Drug Abuse explains how and why a teen brain reacts the way it does from a teen’s perspective, helping us to remember it is not always a choice that they act the way they do.
    • This video explains the difference between an adult and adolescent brain as well as risks that young people face.


    I want to extend congratulations to all the graduating seniors in the Anoka-Hennepin School District and let you know that while this may not be the year you expected, it is still your year to remember and there are still many wonderful, exciting and positive memories that can be made. When you look back on your high school experience, may you have fond memories of all four years, not just the last four months.


    To the parents of high school seniors — enjoy each and every day with your student before they go out and take the world by storm. Some of your most important parenting will happen during the downtime between graduation and your student’s next phase of life. Enjoy and cherish it.


    As always, my hope is that you have enough information at your fingertips to help your student, and if given the opportunity, you can say, “Let’s Talk About It.”

     

    Colleen O'Neil

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Colleen O’Neil, LADC, CPP
    Anoka-Hennepin School District Chemical Health Prevention Specialist
    Phone: 763-506-1145
    Email: colleen.oneil@ahschools.us

    Comments (-1)
  • Let's Talk About It: Spiraling out of control?

    Posted by Colleen O'Neil on 4/8/2020

    (04/08/2020) No one has been spared from the COVID-19 pandemic. No one. Each one of us will forever remember the challenges, the sacrifices, and the fear that we faced while learning new phrases such as social distancing, COVID-19, and distance learning to name a few.  

     

    This pandemic has forced us to make decisions we may not have had to make prior, and this applies to our teens as well. The inability to be with friends, to go to school, or to attend those functions that are all part of the high school experience — it’s been forever altered and changed. This can have a huge impact on one’s mental health and for some — on their substance use.  

     

    One of the things I do as a licensed alcohol and drug counselor (LADC), is to help teens look at their substance use and determine if it is more than just experimental in nature. COVID-19 has changed not only my ability to help teens navigate this in a traditional setting, but it has also changed the behavior of the teen when it comes to their substance use. For some teens, they are realizing their substance use is bigger than what they believed it was. This can leave a teen feeling vulnerable and uneasy. For others, their substance use may be increasing in order to deal with increased mental health challenges. While some parents or caregivers may think their teen will have to figure it out or feel it’s time for the student to just stop using, we need to remember — it’s not that simple. Acknowledging that you recognize this sort of forced-choice is difficult to deal with will allow your teen to take back a bit of control, which is needed during this time. Reframing your response in a way that shows support can be helpful and go a lot further than simply dismissing it.

     

    As I mentioned, while some teens are recognizing that their relationship with substances is bigger than they thought, other teens’ use may be increasing. This could be due to many factors, mental health being one. Worry, fear, anxiety;  these all play a role when one increases substance use and with this comes an increase in tolerance, which, in turn, requires one to use more to get the same effect. It is a vicious cycle and should not be ignored or taken lightly. Being aware of the signs, supporting by listening and having the conversation are all ways in which to help your teen manage appropriately and safely.  

     

    While the use of any mood-altering substance is not ideal for any teen, the most concerning right now is using any substance by means of vaping due to the COVID-19 virus and the effect it has on the lungs. This news report explains the risks and challenges associated with vaping and may be helpful to watch with your teen. Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, wrote a blog post warning that the coronavirus “could be an especially serious threat to those who smoke tobacco or marijuana or who vape.” 

     

    Share with your child the importance of refraining from vaping and show them the data. Truth Initiative has some great information on the connection between COVID-19 and vaping, as does Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Follow this up with encouragement and support. There are some great resources available for those who would like general information on smoking or vaping cessation or for those that are open to exploring ways to quit.

     

    This is not a time to blame, shame or ignore. It is time to support and encourage. Recognizing that any unwanted or unwilling change is not easy, which is why having the conversation, acknowledging and supporting is key. I believe that when we lead with compassion, we more often than not get the results we were hoping for. 


    If you have concerns, need guidance, or need help finding support for your child, please connect with me. I am available to talk with students individually, as well as with parents. There is help and support, and I will help you find it. You can email me at colleen.oneil@ahschools.us or call me (leave a message) and I will return your call as soon as possible: 763-506-1145.


    Colleen O'Neil

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Colleen O’Neil, LADC, CPP
    Anoka-Hennepin School District Chemical Health Prevention Specialist
    Phone: 763-506-1145
    Email: colleen.oneil@ahschools.us

    Comments (-1)
  • Let’s Talk About It: Spring Break

    Posted by Colleen O'Neil on 3/12/2020

    (03/12/2020) We have all been waiting for it and all signs point to it actually being around the corner: Spring (break) is coming!


    Spring break can also mean teens are more vulnerable to risky behaviors, due to the attitude and beliefs they hold toward substance use and that they deserve a little rest and relaxation. While I can’t argue the last statement (everyone deserves a little rest and relaxation), I do believe as parents we have a responsibility to look at our own attitudes and beliefs, as they align with the expectations we set for our children. Whether you are able to take a vacation away from Minnesota, or you are lucky enough to enjoy the snow melt here at home, spring break can be a time to ensure there are clear rules within your family, in order to help protect teens from the many challenges that come with underage drinking or other underage substance use.


    Not sure where you stand on the subject? FCD Prevention Works, which is part of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, offers some great insight on the importance of adult attitudes and the ways in which we convey messages to our children. Preventing risky behaviors can help our children avoid the challenges that come with early substance use. When children see or feel our ambivalence, they may begin to act out or challenge us in ways they haven’t done so before. There is a wealth of great information here and I encourage you to read through it. FCD Prevention Works has an upcoming webinar to help parents find answers to their questions about how to help teens live safe, healthy, rewarding lives without unhealthy alcohol or other drug risks. This is free of charge and well worth the time!


    Spring break also tends to be a time where older teens may travel to Mexico or other locations either with or without parental supervision. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has published some alarming facts regarding underage drinking and binge drinking and I encourage you to read through them with your child prior to any spring break vacation. Doing so allows both you and your child to begin the conversation with the hopes of continuing the open dialogue!


    My hope is that when the opportunity to talk to your child about chemical health arises, you are able to respond by saying, “Let’s Talk About It!”


    May you have a safe and relaxing spring break!

     

    Colleen O'Neil

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Colleen O’Neil, LADC, CPP
    Anoka-Hennepin School District Chemical Health Prevention Specialist
    Phone: 763-506-1145
    Email: colleen.oneil@ahschools.us

    Comments (-1)
  • Let's Talk About It: Should I be worried?

    Posted by Colleen O'Neil on 2/14/2020

    (02/14/2020) You notice something is off about your child, they have been isolating themself or retreating to their room more than usual. You notice their group of friends has been changing and you are seeing new names and faces that you don’t recognize. Maybe their grades have slipped or their attitude has been more negative than usual. Your child may not share things with you the way they used to and you begin to worry something is wrong. Now what?


    There is no playbook or definite reason for these changes. Do you just chalk it up to “typical” teen behavior? It is at this moment that a thought may come to you, but you just can’t believe it to be true — could my child be using substances?


    The moment you suspect that your child may be using a mood-altering substance is the moment you need to remain CALM.

     

    • C - Control your thoughts and actions.
    • A - Assess and decide if you are too upset to continue.
    • L - Leave the situation if you are feeling too angry or upset.
    • M - Make a plan to deal with the situation.


    As parents, we are emotionally invested in our children. Due to our own life experiences, we tend to react to such news out of fear, pain, anger and frustration. While that is not often our intention, this is a typical response. Before you know it, negative emotions are being felt by all and effective communication becomes non-existent, creating a challenging environment where no one gets anywhere and all parties feel hurt.


    If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. There are many great resources available, including a booklet from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. As parents, we often need permission to do what is right, because it sometimes feels so wrong or our children may respond in a way that makes us question our parenting skills.


    If you are made aware of the fact that your child is using a mood-altering substance, I encourage you to find time to sit down and have a conversation with your child. Know that the kind of information you get from your child will depend on how you ask the question and the approach you use. Your child will feel more comfortable sharing with you if they feel they will be listened to and not blamed or accused. Remember, it’s not about who is right or wrong, it’s about being supportive, listening, and finding help if needed.


    There are many resources available to you within the community. Schools, medical professionals, mental health professionals, as well as substance abuse treatment providers are just a few who can help you navigate this difficult situation. I have created a parent resource that is specific to substance use issues that you may find beneficial.


    You may still worry, however, my hope is that you will be more aware, which in turn will benefit the entire family unit. Please feel free to reach out with questions, comments or concerns. Read past blog posts


    Colleen O'Neil

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Colleen O’Neil, LADC, CPP
    Anoka-Hennepin School District Chemical Health Prevention Specialist
    Phone: 763-506-1145
    Email: colleen.oneil@ahschools.us

    Comments (-1)
  • Let’s Talk About It: Vaping and marijuana use

    Posted by Colleen O'Neil on 1/9/2020

    (01/09/2020) Last month, I shared some information on vaping nicotine. This month, I want to share some information on vaping marijuana, and facts specific to this form of use.


    Let’s talk about it.


    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has given the name “EVALI” to the newly identified lung disease that is sweeping across the nation. EVALI stands for E-cigarette or Vaping product use-Associated Lung Injury. While the CDC has identified that vitamin E-acetate appears associated with this disease, there could be several ingredients that cause EVALI, one of which both the CDC and the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) are warning to avoid: tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the high-inducing chemical found in marijuana.


    Nicotine and marijuana-use patterns evolve over the past few years, with many of today’s teens directly combining the two products. According to Truth Initiative, as well as the CDC and FDA, vaping marijuana has been linked with many of the lung disease cases news outlets are sharing. In addition to nicotine and flavored liquids, marijuana concentrates can also be vaped. While not all e-cigarette devices can be used for vaping marijuana, a vast majority of them can. There are also specialized vape pens which are often easy to hide and are more discreet due to their size and ability to produce near odor-free smoke.


    So what is the big deal about vaping marijuana? The main psychoactive, or mood-altering ingredient in marijuana is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). The level of THC in marijuana varies and determines the multitude of effects on the body and brain. Plant-based marijuana potency has increased over the years, up from approximately 4 percent in the ‘80s to an average of 15 percent today. Marijuana extracts that are used in vaping devices, dabbing and edibles, can contain a potency average of 50 to 98 percent. Dabbing (concentrated marijuana extracted using butane to form a waxy residue) is increasing in popularity due to the higher potency and the “higher” high. I think it’s safe to say that whether one is smoking plant-based marijuana or using it in other ways, the potency is much higher. With higher potency comes more serious risks and negative consequences:

     

    • Memory, learning and impulse control problems.
    • Higher drop-out rates.
    • Lower IQ (upwards of eight points).
    • Brain development disruption, resulting in cognitive impairment.


    Not sure if you have all the facts? Review this fact sheet to help you be prepared. Being prepared by having the facts is the first step in starting the conversation. My hope is that you have enough information available and if the opportunity is there, you can say to your student, “Let’s Talk About It.”


    Please feel free to reach out with questions, comments or concerns. My goal is to provide you with the facts and the support to present those facts.

     

    Colleen O'Neil

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Colleen O’Neil, LADC, CPP
    Anoka-Hennepin School District Chemical Health Prevention Specialist
    Phone: 763-506-1145
    Email: colleen.oneil@ahschools.us

    Comments (-1)
  • Let's Talk About It: Vaping

    Posted by Colleen O'Neil on 12/11/2019

    (12/11/19) It seems like everyone is talking about it — and for good reason. You’ve probably seen it on the news, or read about it online, or have heard people discussing it. You may have had questions about it yourself, or maybe your child has asked you about it. There is no escaping the fact that vaping can be dangerous, yet, where can one get accurate, reliable information?


    Let’s talk about it.


    Let’s start with the basic question, what is vaping? Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling an aerosol, often referred to as “vapor,” which is produced by an electronic cigarette (e-cig) or a similar device. Due to the convenience of these devices and the flavored nicotine available, e-cigs popularity has soared with children, which has led U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams to issue an advisory, in December of 2018, on the use of e-cigs. Research has shown that e-cigs are uniquely dangerous for adolescents due to nicotine’s highly addictive properties and the lasting impact it has on developing brains. Adolescent exposure to nicotine can also reduce attention, learning, and memory.


    Here are a few online resources that offer detailed information on e-cigs and ways to spot some of the different vaping devices that are popular among teens:

     


    Over the years, considerable progress has been made to reduce cigarette smoking among young adults. However, big tobacco companies have now turned to e-cigs and are marketing to a new generation of young adults.


    Below is a resource that describes some of the marketing that has been done:

     


    You may be wondering — what do I do with all of this information? I encourage you to find time to engage in a meaningful conversation with your teen about the dangers of participating in vaping. Another great resource for parents/guardians is the American Lung Association. Our entire community plays an important role in protecting our children from the risks of e-cigs and together our efforts can make a difference. The goal at Anoka-Hennepin is to partner with parents/guardians, caring adults, and the community to help ensure that today’s youth are healthy and have the information needed to make healthy choices.


    My hope is that you have enough information at your fingertips and if given the opportunity, you can say, “Let’s Talk About It.”


    Colleen O'Neil

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Colleen O’Neil, LADC, CPP
    Anoka-Hennepin School District Chemical Health Prevention Specialist
    Phone: 763-506-1145
    Email: colleen.oneil@ahschools.us

    Comments (-1)