Recently I attended a civic group meeting, intending to speak about addiction and drug trends, including heroin and opioids, and prevention efforts to address this epidemic. Due to a miscommunication between the people who set up the presentation, the meeting leader had not put me on the agenda. When I attempted to reschedule, he clearly did not want to hear my presentation and responded, “Why should we care about heroin and drug use?”
His attitude is one we frequently encounter when talking to people about this issue. Many people hold a simplistic view of addiction as a moral failing, as a problem that is the result of choice and as something that only affects the downtrodden members of society. That view leaves little room for successful prevention and treatment efforts.
Addiction is a disease, just as diabetes and heart conditions are diseases. People who struggle with substance use disorder should be treated with the same dignity, respect and quality of care as any person who struggles with a different disease. No one chooses to develop an addiction. Becoming dependent on drugs can happen to anyone.
Not only can it happen to anyone, when it does happen it affects the entire community. These effects are seen in workplace costs, taxpayer dollars spent on incarceration, as well as on child protective services when parents struggling with addiction cannot care for their children. And these effects are only scratching the surface of the costs and don’t account for the toll it takes on loved ones who have a friend or family member struggling with addiction.
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However, prevention efforts can be engaged so fewer people will become addicted to drugs in the first place. These prevention efforts start with young people. There are many supportive prevention programs happening in the schools and through community agencies. These efforts provide youth with important skills and knowledge to help prevent them from using drugs. Parents play a critical role in prevention efforts. First and foremost, it is important for parents to educate themselves about what drugs are out there, how these drugs are used and how kids get access to drugs and alcohol. This information can be the basis for talking with kids. These conversations start when kids are as young as preschool age and continue through the teen years and into young adulthood.
We talk to preschoolers about the importance of taking care of our bodies, and include ideas as simple as good nutrition and teeth brushing. With elementary school kids, conversations can be about problem solving and expressing emotions and with pre-teens those conversations might be about making good choices and rules and consequences. All of these topics are important elements of leading a healthy life and are critical for substance use prevention. When youth are older, the talks can be more specifically about drugs and alcohol, your expectations for their behaviors, and the consequences when they don’t meet those expectations.
Denise Herr McCann is the community-based division director at the Centre County Youth Service Bureau, which is a Centre County United Way Partner Agency.
If you go
What: Straight Talk session: “Drugs and Alcohol: What’s Out There”
When: 7-8:30 p.m. Oct. 17
Where: Mount Nittany Middle School, 656 Brandywine Drive, State College