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Parents Need to Take a Second Look

Posted Dec 10 2008 11:20am

Not every thing that glitters is gold, and not everything sold over the counter, supposedly harmless and perfectly legal, is a good idea for your teenage child to take.

Snurf pills are the latest rage, and parents probably do not have a firm understanding of the potential dangers of these “harmless” pills. Not all parents are going to log on to web sites, like WebMD, to learn the details. But earlier this month in Pennsylvania, parents of four tenth graders from Council Rock High School in Philadelphia got a crash course in the dangers of Snurf. The teens were hospitalized.

What is this stuff? It is supposedly an herbal supplement, but closer examination shows it’s actually dextromethorphan, the active ingredient in many cough medicines. Parents have probably already figured out that cough medicine is an alternative to alcoholic beverages, but in the case of the Snurf pills, the label says the pills have “mood altering properties,” which in the hands of a teenager looking for a good time is an invitation for trouble. So what is dextromethorphan? It’s a synthetic morphine, according to Dr. Deborah Levine the attending physician at Bellevue Hospital in New York. She told WebMD, "It's the ninth- and 10th-graders who are doing the dex. One in 10 kids in grades seven to 12 have used it. In California, they have seen a 15-fold increase in kids age 9-17."

Any claims of “herbal” are at best highly questionable and at worst an outright lie. But kids can buy them, and they probably receive the same scrutiny as other diet supplements sold. Michael Windle, PhD, chair of behavior sciences and health education at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health, gave WebMD a rather chilling warning for parents -- "The message isn't out there of the potential dangers of using these substances.

You have a very dangerous combination of fairly easy access with absence of messages of potential harm." He said that illegal drug use is on the decline, but that “legal” drugs were being abused at a higher rate.

If something is legal, like an “herbal” supplement, can it be harmful or even deadly? Absolutely! What is most frightening is that parents are just now starting to question this. Smurf pills and other “herbal” garbage is sold online and kids can easily purchase them without their parents even knowing about it. Windle nails the issue by saying,

"They say it is not illegal and that it's an herb, so adolescents may think it is actually healthy for you. This is a clever marketing gimmick to sell it online. You remove any guilt these adolescents may have about taking a drug."

The side effects of dex in large doses are very serious. It can act as an hallucinogen. Teens may experience depression, loss of memory or slip into an “unreality,” a kind of detachment from self or dissociation. Memory loss is also possible.

Teens turn to Smurf pills because they believe it is more socially acceptable than alcohol or marijuana. After all, a harmless “herbal” pill is nothing to be concerned about. Parents need to pay attention to this “harmless” pill. If they find them, get rid of them.

The four teens who were hospitalized were not enjoying a pleasurable high, they were very sick kids. Even the publicity on the four teens will probably not resonate around the country, but the problem is serious.

Kids are going to experiment, either as a result of a curiosity or peer pressure. Smurf pills are readily available, legal and that’s why they are so dangerous. Unsuspecting kids will take them, take too many and it is very possible that when they do, they will not survive the experience.

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