Monday, April 19, 2010

Flexeril handed out like sweets in elementary school

One of the more interesting debates that rumbles around bars from time to time (and occasionally ends up in the Supreme Court) is not just whether people should be allowed to own guns. It comes down to the practicality of whether people should be responsible for the safety of these potentially dangerous weapons. We have had an unfortunate number of incidents when young people have picked up guns lying around the house and managed to get off a round or two. Less commonly, they have taken their parents' guns to school and managed to add a few students and the odd teacher to the trophy wall. For the record, the deadliest peacetime shooting incident took place at Virginia Tech in 2007 when one man killed thirty-two people. The NRA, being the NRA, is against any forms of controls. If a householder is the victim of a house invasion, you cannot ask the invader to wait while you take the gun out of the safe. You want the freedom to offer immediate defense of self and property. But some states have enacted laws requiring varying security measures to prevent their children from becoming a danger to themselves or others. This is where the Supreme Court comes in with arguments over whether these security measures are constitutional.

So, to understand the principles involved, let's substitute prescription drugs for guns. Many of the standard drugs we have in our homes are routinely abused by others. Suppose our children confuse them for candy and are hooked on painkillers or sedatives. Would we say the parents were at fault in failing to protect their children? Should the drugs have been locked away? Now let's slightly change the story. The children can be a little older and more knowing. They understand the street value of the drugs so stand on the right corners to sell off their parents "stash". The children are, of course, committing a criminal offense and this would not be possible if they could not get their hands on the drugs. The lack of security made the crime possible.

The reason for all this speculation is a story that comes out of East Tulsa. It seems a fifth grader made herself popular by standing out in the playground during recess, and giving away flexeril and painkillers to her fellow students. So far, we do not know why the parents had these drugs around the house. Flexeril is a highly effective muscle relaxant but, particularly among younger users, there are adverse side effects on the heart rate with the possibility of seizures. Ten children took the pills and four went to hospital for a check-up. There have been no adverse effects reported. But what all this comes back to is whether the parents should be liable for allowing their daughter to take medication from the house. The child could be treated as a juvenile offender for being in possession of drugs without a prescription and distributing them. Her age, between 10 and 11, will not save her. But this could not have happened without her parents' failure to keep the drugs safely locked away. As a matter of policy, do we want to make parents responsible for the dangerous "things" they keep in their homes? There are some interesting policy decisions here and we might learn something about America by watching what happens in East Tulsa over the next week or so.


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