Kelly Lundberg Interview Excerpts
Dr. Kelly Lundberg is a licensed psychologist who is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Utah. She works as a professional consultant to the Utah Addiction Center and to the Salt Lake City Police Department. She is the director of Assessment and Referral Services which provides objective screening and referral services to DUI offenders. She is also the director of Interim Group Services for those individuals awaiting Salt Lake County funded substance abuse treatment. She has taught in the Alcohol and Drug Certificate Training offered through the Graduate School of Social Work since 1989. Finally, Dr. Lundberg provides consulting services to Lawyers Helping Lawyers and the Utah State Bar Character and Fitness Committee. Dr. Lundberg was the recipient of the Governor's Award for Contributions to Substance Abuse Treatment and Anti-Violence in 1997. She has a statewide reputation as one of the leading experts in addictions and is sought throughout Utah for her teaching and consultative services.
Interviewer: Parents have heard a lot about club drugs because of the newspaper and other significant media. What are club drugs? What are designer drugs? What are the trends and usage.
Kelly: Okay. Well club drugs are a variety of different drugs that are made for the purpose of being used at clubs, although they can also have other uses as well. So your most common club drug that you hear about, especially in the media, would be ecstasy. There is also something called GHB, which is gamma hydroxic buterate, catamine, and also roofies, which is a benzodiazepine is another very, very common club drug. So those drugs are out there and they are certainly being used by young adults or adolescents. The fact is that even though those drugs are dangerous and they are not healthy to use, there are other drugs that are being used in much higher proportion than the club drugs, with much more damaging consequences to the individual and the families.
What trends are you seeing now?
With the club drugs?
With everything. In terms of the substance of abuse.
Well, the trends that we see changed depending upon the decade. Currently what we are seeing is a trend of stimulants with the methamphetamine. That is one of our biggest problems that we are facing right now is methamphetamine. It is a highly addictive drug, it is an incredibly destructive drug. We also still see marijuana. However methamphetamine for the first time in Utah’s history has replaced marijuana as an illegal drug of choice among adults. We have never seen that before. Alcohol has been alive and well for many years and it is still one of the primary drugs of choice, especially among men. In comparison club drugs are very, very low, very low on the spectrum with methamphetamine, alcohol, even heroin and marijuana being in the top groups.
Excellent. Kids as young as third graders learn to sniff markers and other things. Can you just, it’s not a big vital story but it is an important part because that is more of a gateway of sorts.
Yeah. Well you know one of the silliest inventions I ever saw was the magic markers that smell like blueberry or chocolate or banana. It seems to me that we are then teaching kids how to sniff markers or encouraging it on some kind of marketing level, which is absolutely absurd and obscene. Sniffing or huffing, as we call it, whether it is markers, whether it is gasoline, toner, whiteout. Well these are household products that you can easily obtain to do this. You don’t have to buy these. You’re probably going to have them in your homes from your work setting. They are incredibly dangerous. It depletes oxygen from the brain. It can cause brain damage. You don’t have to have an addiction to huffing in order to end up with some kind of damage. So those kinds of things are out there. They don’t have high addictive potential, but they are incredibly damaging to the brain, and with the adolescent the brain is developing. So it becomes even more pertinent that somebody stay away from this kind of use.
Great, great answer. The trends and usage in terms of state wide, how does rural compare to Salt Lake. I understand there is a huge problem in the Utah County. What is going on. Just give us kind of a snap shot.
Yeah. Well in Utah County, also in Salt Lake County, you see a lot of heroin use. So that is not unusual to see in the cities, that you are going to see more of the opiate use. Although it depends on the opiate. For example, Oxycotin is something that you see more in the rural areas. And even though it is in the same class, you are seeing differences. Methamphetamine is a difference as well. We see more of Methamphetamine labs in the rural areas than we do in the cities. Although we still see rapid use of Methamphetamine in the cities. The labs are primarily in the rural areas because it is easy to hide a lab a rural area. It’s easy to not be able to patrol roads that converge and go off into the wilderness or into the desert, so it is just a safer place to make Methamphetamine and to keep labs hidden.
What is a typical scenario of how kids get and use drugs in your understanding of this?
Well, we need to face up in all of our kids is that the number one drug of choice is marijuana. And part of the reason that, that is the number one drug of choice is because it is an easily obtained drug. It is the easiest drug for kids to get. So all they have to do is ask somebody if they have it and somebody probably has it in the locker. Whereas with alcohol they would have to hang around the 7-11 to find somebody with an ID who will buy for them or they’ll have to get into their parent’s supply. They have to take more energy. Somebody probably doesn’t have it in the locker as readily as marijuana. So marijuana is probably the easiest drug for kids to get. So all they have to do is ask around. It really is as simple as that. Since it is not a highly expensive drug, you don’t need a lot of money or you can exchange favors for the drug. But it is very easy to get. Most kids start looking at that kind of thing as an option when they are about 13 or 14 years old, starting first with nicotine around the age of 12 to 13. Then looking at experimentation 13 to 14.
It may be easy to get but it is hard to hide. But I guess they don’t think about that. Kids think that parents don’t know the hiding places.
Yea, I think that kids don’t necessarily think that they have to go to a lot of effort to hide something, or they put it in their coat pocket. Mom or dad is going to have to go through pockets to find it and mom and dad probably aren’t going to do that unless they have a reason to be suspicious. Sometimes even when they have reasons to be suspicious they are a little worried about taking the next step and starting to look through the child’s things. So, if you think about it, you know you could put something in your own drawer in your house and it could stay there for a long time unless somebody actually made a decision that they were going to look for something.
Impact to the media, are we forcing the adolescents, the young people to be more vulnerable and suseptable to usuage?
I think the impact of the media is kind of a dual of sword. On one hand because we see so much of it, it is so hard to watch television on any given night without some kind of reference, either subtle or incredibly overt, to drugs or alcohol. So on one hand you have this desensitation that takes place in our culture where kids aren’t shocked about these kinds of things. On the other hand because of that, there are lots of opportunities on any given night to be sitting with your kids and some reason or have something happen or that you watch on television or you see in the news that is a good opportunity to strike a conversation about alcohol and drugs. So I think it presents us with both, and as a society we need to decide how to balance that out and how we can still keep kids aware but safe.
So what we have to do is start watching the Simpson’s with our kids?
I think so. Well, and you know there are certainly the kids shows that we worry about. But the fact is that if we take a look at the shows that we are not so worried about, there are certainly tons of references, even if it is done in a very healthy way. There are still lots of opportunities that we can be holding on to and taking advantage of.
People don’t get into meths strictly for weight loss, although certainly that is the first turn on probable. You know, wow, I’m losing weight. Meth is great. Would you say something about it just destroys everything?
Yea, it does. The men and women that I talk to who start using methamphetamine, although there are some woman who started specifically for the weight loss, the fact is most of them haven’t done it for that reason. The fact is most of them did it because they heard it was a great high. It is the cheapest stimulant out there. It is cheaper than cocaine. The high is reportedly longer, is reportedly better, so it has its appeal all by itself in addition to the weight loss. And yea woman will loose weight, I guarantee, they will loose weight on methamphetamine. But they will also loose their teeth. They will also loose their relationships. They will loose their children. They will use. If they are worried about how they look, I can tell you they don’t look good after using methamphetamine. They will get sores and rashes. Their skin will become yellow and sallow and drawn looking. It is not a pretty picture.
What are the key factors driving substance abuse? Is it money, curiosity, numbing?
Well, I think there are several key factors that drive substance use. I mean certainly curiosity is a piece of that. People are curious. We also, especially in the United States, have a desire to look for a better state of mind through drugs. If you think about that, through pharmaceutical drugs. So that is not new trend in our society. If you look at how many ads there are for pharmaceutical companies talking about how a particular drug will make you feel better, those certainly has an appeal to people in the United States. So there is that reason. Genetics. Genetics and biology make us different and trigger different things in us that other people wouldn’t have to worry about. So some people can casually experiment out of curiosity and never worry about it again and other people will become addicted because their genes are different. The other key issue is simply economics. It is a big business out there and it is an issue of supply and demand. If there is demand out there, there will be a supply. All the prices have to do with supply and demand too. If I am the only one that has a particular drug, I can hike up the price. If everybody else has it, the price will go down. If you buy in bulk like you do at Cosco, the price will go down. So certainly the law of business and economics also pertains to drug use.
Utah is a state of denial when it comes to substance abuse. What can you say about how we need to get our heads out of the bags?
Well, I think there are several things that are worrisome about denying problems here. I think we like to assume that it couldn’t happen in Utah. That our kids or our people are somehow different here. They don’t have the same kind of curiosity or they don’t have the same kind of genetic makeup. When, in fact, there could be two generations of abstinence and you wouldn’t know whether your genetically vulnerable or not just because parents and grandfather never used. So I think that we assume, make assumptions that are just incorrect, that we are different, and we are not different. We are not different and we have to be talking about it, we have to recognize the difference. We have to be able to survey our kids in the state and find out what is going on. Those kind of things people get uncomfortable when they hear. Because if we are asking a question, it means that we have the problem and even though I wouldn’t go so far as to say one leads to the other, there is always a problem. Nobody escapes this. No state escapes having substance abuse issues. So, the fact is, who can we help and how can we prevent these things from happening?
What is your opinion of zero tolerance in the schools?
Well, I am aware that many schools are moving toward a zero tolerance policy. So if somebody is being tested for drugs or alcohol and they come up positive, some schools will say, “Okay, we will test you continuously and if you come up positive again, you are dismissed from our school.” You are basically kicked out. I think the good news is schools are struggling with what to do with this issue. I think we all should be struggling with what to do. So, I think that is a very good thing. The bad thing is what are we doing to these kids once we kick them out? How are we helping them? What is being done to offer them assistance? So that would be my biggest concern is if we are identifying these kids who potentially may have a problem, just because they are dirty doesn’t mean they would have a problem, but if potentially they have a problem, what are we offering them and their parents so that we can help them?
Well, do you think that enforced dress codes might help reduce substance abuse?
Well, I think if enforced dress codes would probably not do a whole lot to help the problem. Because really that would be the assumption that those schools that have uniforms don’t have drug or alcohol problems. That is not the case. That is not the case. So, I don’t think that, that would do much good for a variety of different reasons. I don’t think it is going to work.
When you talk to kids in your sessions, what do they tell you?
Well, when I am talking to kids and they are struggling with addiction, one of the things I hear from them is they want to convince me that they are good kids. They don’t have to convince me of that. It is usually pretty obvious that they are good kids. So that tells me that they are embarrassed and ashamed by what they are doing, on some level. The other thing that I hear from kids is that they don’t want to be seen as an addict. Whether it is because they are embarrassed, whether they don’t believe that they are. Nobody wants to be seen that way, whether we are talking about kids or adults. Nobody wants to be seen that way.
What do the kids tell you that they are ashamed. They are good kids, See if you can start again there.
Yeah, you bet. Kids tell me a variety of things when they present me. And part of it depends on whether they are coming in for treatment or whether they are just coming to talk about drugs or alcohol in general. One of the things that kids feel very strongly about is that they have the right to experiment, or they have the right to look at these kind of things or to explore these kinds of issues. Or that kids often will spend a lot of time trying to telling you that marijuana should be legalized. Whether those things are true or not, the fact is kids need to be aware of if they experiment they could be vulnerable. And we don’t know who is vulnerable and who is not. The kids that have become addicted will tell me the same thing. That they didn’t realize they were addicted until long after they were addicted. There is not a threshold where you can actually see yourself crossing it and say, “I am becoming addicted.” When you start thinking I’m becoming addicted, you already have become addicted. You just can’t see that line. It is impossible to see. Then once you are over that line, it’s getting back that is so difficult. So kids talk a lot about their embarrassment with this, about not wanting to see themselves as an addict because of the stigma involved in that, because they see themselves as other things besides a drug user. And they struggle with these kinds of things in so many different ways. They struggle with the fact that their families lost trust with them. Then there is a power struggle. How do you get this back? Because kids want freedom anyway. Let alone when they have lost freedom, they even want it more, but they have to earn it so there becomes this power issue. So they struggle with it on a variety of different levels.
What do parents tell you about these kids?
Parents, parents will come in and the first thing parents typically tell me is that their kids are good kids. They really are telling themselves that. Because I know. I know that this is true. But I think they are worried that because their kid is using drugs that, that means that they are bad. That is what they hear from the media. That is what they hear just because of the stigma that exists. They tell me they don’t know what to do. They really don’t know what to do. It is so hard. Do you kick the kid out. If you do that, what are the risks, the real risks? And there are dangers out there for kids living alone or living with other kids who are using. We have high overdose rates in Salt Lake County for example. So they struggle with what can I do? What is okay, what is not okay? They struggle with being consistent with deciding what to do today and then the child changes something the next day and then they don’t know whether they should follow through or not with what they decided. They struggle with differences. Mom and dad might feel differently about how to handle it and that can cause stress within the relationship in the marriage and the family. So, they are at a huge loss as to how to help the child. They wonder about their own capability and they feel guilty often times, even if they have no reason to feel that way.
My theory that the parents of these kids are baby boomers who were able to realize and experience and experiment and had a great time. Are they raising the kids thinking well our kids deserve as much freedom as we had to express themselves? Is this a dynamic that you see going on?
I see a wide variety within the baby boomers as parents. Some of them do feel like their kids should have the freedom to experiment. Some of them are smoking pot still, for example. They started in the 60’s and they are continuing to do it today. They see it is something that is okay for their children to do until their children crosses some line and then it is suddenly not okay and then they don’t know what to do or how to handle that. So there is a wide range between parents being incredibly lax and free with that kind of approach. Or those parents saying, “Oh my gosh. I did this. I can’t let my children do it.” There are some of those. Most of the parents I see are somewhere in between. They struggle with how do I teach my kids not to do some things that I have done? What do I tell them? How honest should I be about my own use in the past without sounding like I’m glorifying it? Or without my kids saying, “Well you turned out okay. What is wrong with me doing it?” What we need to keep in mind especially about marijuana is it is not the same marijuana that they were smoking 30 years ago. It is different. The THC content is much higher than it used to be. It used to be it was about 30 percent, now it is about 70 percent. So parents who kind of feel it is okay for their kids to do this need to realize that number one it is a different drug than it used to be. Number two the times are different than they used to be and that has an impact as well.
Okay a couple more. The one about what our first parents or are challenged by having to talk about sex and STB’s and they don’t want to so they think the school and maturation programs can handle that and then drug education comes up and they are so caught off guard they don’t know how to find these moments without providing too much information that might lead to the kids wanting to experiment. I mean that is kind of a fine line of how much impression to give. So, what is that all about?
Well we can’t rely on the schools alone to educate our children about substance abuse issues. And we can’t rely on parents alone either. We have to rely on the whole community. We have to rely on the schools. We have to rely on the individual. We have to rely on families and parents and community, and even policy changes, media even in good ways to help educate our children. So there should never be an alliance on one entity. It is too important and it is too big to feel comfortable with that. So parents need to be doing their part of that. Their part of that means taking advantage of opportunities and what typically doesn’t work is the parent seeing a commercial and then saying, “Okay, Jeffery come here. We are going to talk about drugs and alcohol.” Just out of the blue. If parents can find a contextual reference that would help. There are tons of them out there, on the news, or in television shows, or in movies, and just being able to say as you are sitting down having those times with kids watching these kinds of things. What do you think about that? What do you think about that? How is that different. How is that the same than what you are seeing with your friends than what you see about yourself? So taking opportunities that arise just naturally without forcing the issue. We know that if parents are talking to their kids continuously about drugs and alcohol, that those kids have a less likely outcome in terms of it. They are less likely to use than the kids whose parents who are not talking to them about those kinds of things. So we know that it can be helpful. It also needs to be age appropriate. How you are going to talk to your child who is five is going to be very different than how you are going to talk to your child who is fourteen. So you need to make sure that you are providing the appropriate age related issues and information for them. As a child gets older you have to be more honest and that becomes difficult. What we know is that kids will respond if they believe you are being honest. They don’t like it if they think that you are lying or you are only presenting one side of things. You have to do this in a very caring way and you have to do it in a way where you are not only lecturing; you don’t want to just sound like you are lecturing and giving information, but that you are actually listening to your child. That you are interested in what their prospective is. It is one of the hardest things for parents to do some times is to do this in a way that is not a lecture.
In many fields there is a lot of ego. There is a lot of everybody is going their own way. The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. In terms of Utah’s coheceivness in the substance abuse prevention treatment community, I have been very impressed. Can you address how Utah is very progressive in this manner?
Utah has been progressive regarding substance abuse, prevention, treatment, education for many years. I think it is a credit to the people in the field who have been around for a long time and who are dedicated to making this work, who really care about these issues and don’t want to just give it lip service. They also care about it enough to look at what the research says. Because we can be just talking about what we feel is right, but we have to look at what the science tells us about what that can work, how that doesn’t work, and all of those kinds of issues. Utah does that extremely well. So it is a community of people who really care about this issue, who know one another, who rely on one another, and who basically are helping put together all the different pieces of this because everyone has a little different place in terms of their knowledge and bring it all together in a way that has found threatening with a goal of how do we help people who are struggling with these issues, or how do we prevent people from ever having to struggle with these issues?
The drug situation is never going to go away. Substances will always be here but it seems to me you are driving the awareness level lower and lower and being able to prevent treat at a younger age, or I don’t know, it just seems like you are not waiting until people are the bums in the gutter.
Well, we don’t want to wait. We could. I guess that is one option is to just wait and treat the people who have the problems, but that number will just continue to grow and we won’t have the money to treat the people who have the problems because the number will be too large. So we have to attack this from all levels. I mean we still have to be able to provide services to the people who are struggling. But we also have to do good prevention. If we can do good prevention, then we don’t have to worry about the big numbers that will come afterward. If we can make a difference on the front end then we don’t have to worry about the carnage that happens on the other side.
Anything I didn’t cover?
The only other thing that I’m always struck by when I do this, is that I can tell you nobody wants to become an addict. Nobody says, “Ooh, I can’t wait to be 35 and lose my home and lose my job and use every day of my life.” Nobody wants that. Nobody is choosing that life for themselves.
It just happens.