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How Am I Supposed to Explain Drug Overdoses to My Kid?

Here's a thing about me. I'm a talker, and sometimes I forget that my 7-year-old daughter will not only be eavesdropping on my adult conversations, but taking them in; taking names and then asking questions. Lots and lots of questions. And sometimes, things can get awkward.

For my day job I write about celebrities, movies and entertainment. After Glee star Cory Monteith died, I was penning all sorts of pieces from celebrity Twitter reactions to his cause of death. And just in case you have been sleeping under a rock, the actor with the boyish charm died from doing heroin. Yeah, so not gleeful.

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While making dinner I was taking to my husband and was going on and on about the tragedy. My kid, who was a room away, ran in. She has a keen sense when something "interesting" is being discussed.

"Who is Cory Moneymouth?" she demanded.

"It's Cory Monteith. He was an actor," I said.

"Do I know him?" she asked.

"No, he was on an adult show called Glee." I replied.

"How did he die?" my always curious girl asked.

"Well, he made some bad choices," I diplomatically answered.

And then all of sudden I spat out, as if I had the last card in Uno, "DON'T DO DRUGS!"

Then it got weird.

My husband gave me of those perfectly executed WTF looks that only long-term partners can exchange. And my daughter just looked stunned.

"Why not," she asked. "You and daddy do drugs all the time."

(Insert sounds of crickets here.)

I realized that the terms "drugs," as in medicines and "drugs" as in cocaine or heroine, should not be interchangeable.

OK, now I have some explaining to do. No, my husband and I do not do "drugs." We take medications, things that help us stay alive like statins for my husband's high cholesterol and allergy spray for me so I can stop sneezing. But we've gotten into the habit of saying, "I need to stop by Walgreens and pick up my drugs." And "I need a refill, I'm almost out of my drugs." It gives such a more interesting sound to something so mundane. But I realized that the terms "drugs," as in medicines and "drugs" as in cocaine or heroin, should not be interchangeable. And after this short conversation about the death of a star from Glee, I felt forced into having "the talk." Well, one of them, with my elementary school kid.

I kept it as light as I could. I said that some people take drugs that they don't need to take, and they do so to feel different. But sometimes these drugs are really bad and they can kill you or make you really sick. She wanted to know why they took them if they were dangerous, adding that it seemed like a really stupid thing to do. I agreed, and didn't have a good answer to why people did them. But one thing for sure, I did tell her that she shouldn't and there is nothing "cool" about it, no matter what anyone says.

This whole accidental drug talk started to make me wonder when is a good time to start talking about substance abuse with kids? Kidshealth.org suggests that you start laying the groundwork from preschool age to 7 saying, "Keep the tone of these discussions calm and use terms that your child can understand." They recommend keeping the conversation going and that from age 8 to 12, "a dialogue now helps keep the door open as kids get older and are less inclined to share their thoughts and feelings."

Childrennow.org suggests introducing the drug talk at around 6 or 7 during a casual time. When your kids are brushing their teeth say something like, “There are lots of things we do to keep our bodies healthy, like brushing our teeth. But there are also things we shouldn’t do because they hurt our bodies. Like smoking or taking medicines when we are not sick.”

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Drug use is increasing with the youth of America, so addressing the issues of drug abuse early, and perhaps regularly, can be very beneficial to your kids. Gil Kerlikowske, the director of National Drug Policy, stated, "We recognize American families are facing many challenges today, but failing to adequately prevent young people from using drugs now can lead to a lifetime of devastating consequences."

And as with anything, it's better to be safe than sorry. Although our conversation about drugs did seem to come at a young age, I'm glad that the door has been opened. There will be more talks like this, and here is hoping this "teachable moment" is one that has laid a foundation of making good choices later on.

Have you talked about drugs with your kids yet?

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