Kids in Lamorinda don't do drugs.
If you read that sentence and laugh or weep in disbelief, you are more informed than most parents with children living in these affluent East Bay communities, according to Dr. S. Alex Stalcup, medical director of the New Leaf Treatment Center in Lafayette.
"Spread the word: we have a big drug problem in Lamorinda," he said ominously.
It was intermission during an all-afternoon Family Resource Workshop at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center, but Stalcup barely pauses to catch his breath before launching into his heartfelt diatribe.
"I see kids at 13 who are alcoholics. We have an attitude of 'kids will be kids' in Lamorinda," he said. "It breaks my heart because these kids, they can't stand how they feel."
Although he's adverse to "scare tactics," when it comes to New Leaf treatment protocols and methodologies, he's not against scaring parents with grim, scientifically-substantiated statistics.
At the early September workshop, Jackie Long, a former special agent supervisor at the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, says that of all the addicts he has met in his 26 years, none started abusing substances as an adult.
"What scares me most is that we have compounds on our streets right now that were not around a few years ago," he said, powering up visuals of packets resembling pouches of candy on the room's large screen. With names like "K2," "Spice" and "Mind Candy," printed in neon colors on hip, shiny packages, they suggest something fun, even yummy. They contain THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, but pumped up to become 700 times more addictive, Long claims.
More facts and figures followed for the workshop attendees. Only 17 percent of the products are illegal under federal laws; only 5 out of the more than 20 ingredients in Spice are tested; "Bath Salts," another misnomer product name, are made of Mephedrone, which is like Ecstasy. The list goes on, as do the serious medical reactions and even deaths; in 2008, 14,800 youths who mixed drugs and alcohol died, Long reports.
"If I told you we're going to lose 10 kids every month from drug use, what would you do as a community?" he asked.
With 47 percent of the children saying they got their first drugs from family or friends -- mostly from the bathroom medicine cabinet and due to boredom or stress -- before scaling up to the Internet, "graduation" takes on a whole new meaning.
The bad news from Long grows even more severe when it comes from Stalcup.
"Parents do not want to think there's a problem," he says bluntly. "They don't want to stigmatize with treatment. Officials at the schools say, 'Don't tar us with a drug brush.' They have a zero-tolerance policy, but my frank opinion is they don't want to get into it. The kids discount the scare messages, so we're left with a big concern."
Addressing the concern directly is the only solution, he advocates. Encouraging parents to know if there is a genetic component or a family history is first. Examining their own drug and alcohol use is vital. Understanding the disease of addiction means investigating the causes, participating in the treatment and seeking professional counsel before Vicodin becomes OxyContin becomes Heroin.
And when it's not drugs -- video gaming, for instance -- the dangers are equally insidious.
"A Kaiser study shows that 8.5 percent of kids ages 8 to 18 are addicted to gaming, can't control their use and crave it when they can't have it," says Jeffrey Kent, New Leaf's youth program director. "Boys are four times more likely to be addicted."
He too, has images and news reports of children being hospitalized, from incessant gaming to the point of neglecting bodily needs for food ... or incarceration, for stealing to support their habit.
"Addiction loves secrecy, it loves lying. So when your kid does these things, it's time to pay attention," he warns.
The NLTC's approach to treatment is physical and social, as well as medical.
"Of all the research, what's evidenced is that the most protective tool is sports," Stalcup says.
Gym memberships, free of charge, are offered to each patient and nutritional counseling backs up the "healthy body" directive behind much of NLTC's therapy. Group activities--like golf outings--show kids alternatives to addictive activities.
The small group of 25 people in attendance, choosing to cluster in small groups rather than ask questions publicly, may have proved Stalcup's point about a lack of facing up to what he sees as an important local problem.