In the midst of an opioid epidemic, a possible breakthrough when it comes to teenagers and drug use.
A new government study shows some teens may be too addicted to their cell phones to bother with drugs.
"A lot of us love our phones and are addicted to them that it's hard when we part with them," said Leylanis Barbot, an eighth grader from West Springfield.
Barbot admitted that she is addicted to her cell phone and she's not alone.
A recent survey from Common Sense Media found that half of teenagers felt addicted to their devices and 78 percent checked their devices at least hourly.
"Social media is playing a big part in this and kids are being observed with social media and Snapchat and Instagrams and all of that," said Tacia Mazimpaka, an eighth grader from West Springfield.
At least one study may indicate that teen's addiction to smartphones could be at least one reason why illicit drug use among high schoolers is the lowest level in 40 years.
That government study, by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, found that as heroin use has reached epidemic proportions among adults, it has fallen significantly among teens in the past decade.
Researchers said that it's interesting to note that cell phone use has skyrocketed over that same time period.
Also over the last decade, programs like 'Just Once presentations - where former high school star athletes, former police officers, and college students-turned drug users and ultimately prisoners - speak to kids in western Massachusetts starting in middle school about staying away from opiods.
It's a constant drum beat that Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Galluni said is taking hold.
"The sense is that we're making a real impact. I think the message that we're putting out there, especially around prevention and talking to young people about how this can start and how to be weary of certain situations is really penetrating effectively," Galluni added.
As for cell phone addictions, "using a cell phone I would prefer any day over someone using elicit drugs or any kind of narcotic," Galluni said.
However, how is cell phone use an even trade-off for drugs?
"The way that looking at a screen held in your hand where you have control over it, satisfies something in your brain, like this think you need to go back to, something you need to check, something that makes you feel different emotions depending on what you're checking for, what you're looking at, it does those same things," said Audra Winn, a licensed clinical social worker at the Gandara Mental Health Center in Springfield.
In fact, Winn said that studies show cell phone use can actually chemically trigger a similar response in your brain: teens, feeling high, fulfilling that need for sensation seeking, when playing video games or posting on social media.
"Of course, it doesn't do the exact same thing as a substance can to your brain, but in terms of the neurons that fire and receptors that come up, it is pretty similar," Winn explained.
Mazimpaka offers one warning.
"Using your cell phone could be a better addiction because you can learn from it, but you're still not experiencing and getting life experiences," Mazimpaka noted.
Even so, Barbot said it beats drug addiction.
"Every parent says oh, you're addicted to that cell phone, put it down, but if I were a parent, I would rather my child be addicted to a cell phone," Barbot said.
Western Mass News reached out to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The director told us additional research looking solely at cell phone addiction versus drug addiction in teens is already in the works.
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