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'Taking their lives into their own hands': Experts see an increase in young people turning to substances during pandemic

Experts say it's important to have conversations with your kids not only about substance use but mental health.

The COVID-19 pandemic has experts seeing increased anxiety, depression, and substance use.

In Franklin County, the coroner has reported a surge in drug overdoses since April. Dr. Anahi Ortiz said in just three days, from Oct. 2. to Oct. 5, 18 people lost their lives to overdose. At one point in September, Columbus Public Health reported 32 suspected overdoses in 24 hours.

Now, experts told 10TV they are seeing more young people turning to drugs and alcohol.

"Younger and younger ages - 10, 12 years old," said Robin Heminger, an engagement specialist at Maryhaven. "Young kids do what they think will help resolve their stressor or their anxiety for just that moment. Unfortunately, in that moment, they're taking their lives into their own hands."

Heminger said oftentimes, teens don't know what exactly they are taking. COVID-19 has more people using alone with no one there to intervene.

"They may be told they're going to be ingesting Xanax or they're going to be ingesting cannabis - marijuana - and it may be laced with other drugs," Heminger said.

Dr. Andrea Bonny, chief of Adolescent Medicine at Nationwide Children's Hospital, said there are some signs of substance use parents can look for:

  • Increased privacy and isolation
  • Change in friends
  • Change in hygiene or appearance
  • Money goes missing
  • Lack of interest in things they used to enjoy

However, Dr. Bonny said it may not always be that obvious.

"Trust your gut," she said. "If you think something is wrong, trust it."

It is important for parents to have conversations with their kids about not only substances but mental health.

"Discuss how you are feeling," Dr. Bonny said. "I'm feeling a little stressed right now, but what do I do when I feel stressed? What can we do together to not feel so stressed?"

If you know your loved one is using, Dr. Bonny said you should approach the conversation from an educated, loving, and calm place.

"You can be honest and truthful with your child," Dr. Bonny said. "Try to be understanding and empathetic, but firm which is hard to do. Firm being, I don't condone this. I don't support this. We are going to get you treatment, but without being so critical that you immediately alienate your child."

Dr. Bonny said while there is hope for recovery, loved ones need to keep in mind the path won't be easy.

"Substance use disorders are chronic relapsing brain diseases so relapse is a part of the illness and can be very, very frustrating," she said.

Caidyn Bearfield said she is three years into her recovery. She said she started using substances at a young age.

"I distinctly remember being 12 or 13 years old and having this weird stream of consciousness, 'Hey, I haven't really been thinking. I don't think I've ever been able to not think before. I want to do this every day," Bearfield said. "I heard about it on the news that someone has overdosed again today and I thought, 'If people are willing to die for it, it must be pretty good.' I was so depressed I was willing to die for just about anything."

Eventually, she ended up getting help at The Buckeye Ranch, addressing not only addiction but mental health.

"There is no way I would be able to accomplish half of what I have had that intervention not be made," Bearfield said.

Now, Bearfield attends Columbus State Community College.

She said COVID-19 has presented additional barriers for those in recovery. She misses the community that comes with being in the same room as others.

"There is a sense of comradery in the tangible rooms of twelve-step fellowships where people are hugging, smoking cigarettes, and talking crap before we even begin "the meeting," she said.

In addition, it is difficult to find new friends and hobbies during a time of social distancing and staying at home.

"People in recovery are in this process of rediscovering themselves and redefining their interests, creating healthy relationships and new meaningful relationships, and cutting off these old ties," she said. "If you live with a loved one in recovery, be extra nice to them if they're pacing around the house."

Anyone experiencing or witnessing a suspected overdose is asked to call 911 immediately. To get help or learn what resources are available, click here.

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