SALT LAKE CITY — Maria Broman, whose son survived a prolonged bout with heroin abuse, has advice for parents whose children are struggling with addiction: Be resilient.
"You've just got to keep trying. You've got to keep loving them through it," Broman said Friday at a town hall-style forum broadcasted Thursday from the KSL-TV studios.
The forum, shown live on Facebook beginning at 5:30 p.m. and for the entirety of the station's 6 p.m. newscast, was organized to bring together educators, parents, medical professionals and law enforcement officials to address the problem of drug use in Utah.
Of particular concern to experts is the abuse of synthetic drugs and prescription painkillers, especially in response to the sudden deaths of two 13-year-olds in Park City this week that are being investigated for a possible connection to a lethal substance.
Panelists from several fields agreed on what is frequently the single best prevention resource in the community: parents.
"There are things parents can look for in their children's behavior to help them recognize if they're experimenting or if they're using," Unified Police Sgt. Scott VanWagoner told KSL-TV investigative reporter Debbie Dujanovic.
VanWagoner said unusual or sudden changes in a teenager's attitude or performance in school is frequently a red flag. The Utah Department of Health has also said that bouts of euphoria, lethargic behavior, respiratory difficulties, constipation, itching and inability to detect physical pain can be symptoms teenagers experience because of drugs.
Parents should get to the root of any such change, the sergeant said.
"Know what they're doing online. Know what their communications are," VanWagoner said.
Grant Seaver, a 13-year-old student at Treasure Mountain Junior High School, was discovered dead Sunday inside his home. On Tuesday morning, Seaver's best friend, Ryan Ainsworth, also 13, was also found dead at his home. His family told police he was not showing signs of depression on the night before he died.
Police are still waiting for toxicology results to determine how the boys died, but school district officials sent out an advisory to parents this week warning about a synthetic opioid often referred to as "pink." The drug, more formally called U-47700, is known to be many times more powerful than prescription painkillers and can be deadly in tiny doses.
Brian Besser, Drug Enforcement Agency regional agent in charge, says the drug has not technically been outlawed but will be beginning Oct. 7, when it is officially put on the federal register as a Schedule I drug. That designation means it has no accepted medical purpose in the United States.
"Kids … if you're tempted to experiment, just say no," VanWagoner said. "Don't believe what you read online. This stuff will hurt you. It will hurt your families. It will hurt your friends. Don't touch it."
Dr. Robert Didinger, a psychologist whose practice is in Orem, addressed any parents within the reach of Friday's forum.
"(You) have an opportunity to say, 'What do you think about this? How do you feel about drugs?'" Didinger explained.
Parents can prevent drug abuse by not thinking their children are immune from the temptation to experiment with different substances, according to Didinger.
"Parents need to know their children will sometimes make bad decisions," he said. "(They need to be) listening to their child and validating their feelings and thoughts that they have and creating an open dialogue."
Multiple authorities and affected parents also said Friday that missing spoons, empty pens and used straws all can be signs around the house pointing to possible drug experimentation. All of those items can be utilized as drug paraphernalia.