Guest post by Celeste Clark. Celeste Clark is the Executive Director of the Raymond Coalition For Youth and has been involved in the field of substance misuse prevention and community building for over fifteen years. She is a founder, and now the Executive Director, of the Raymond Coalition for Youth, a grassroots community coalition that has been built into a nationally recognized organization. Celeste holds certificates in Non Profit Management from Marlboro College, CADCA National Coalition Institute, Juvenile Diversion Certification from Georgetown University and is a NAMI Suicide Prevention Connect Trainer. In addition to these certifications she stays current in her knowledge by attending annual conferences and takes advantage of every opportunity to be better connected to her community and the issue of substance misuse.
A parent knows that if they turn their back on one child to take care of another one, the one they are not watching is free to get into mischief. This can be said about the opioid epidemic, but it in this case, we have two very mischievous children who are wreaking havoc while not being watched. Their names are alcohol and marijuana.
Heroin, Fentanyl, Carfentanil and prescription drugs in the home have taken the center stage, and rightfully so. People are dying. Families and communities are literally breaking, suffering and in need of support.
NH has made great progress addressing this, but the work is not even close to done. The bigger question, the loudest question is, "How did this happen?" Addiction and substance misuse are not new issues. People have been struggling with these for decades, only no one talked about them. This is possibly the only positive thing the opioid epidemic has done, it has shed a light on the need to talk about substance misuse, recognized addiction as a brain disease and connected people to help.
This brings us back to the bad children we weren't paying attention to. Alcohol and marijuana use are the foundation for addiction. Pretty much every person we have worked with tells us their substance misuse started at a young age with alcohol or marijuana. We hear that four out of five people who use heroin typically started with prescription drugs - but to be clear, this means that they were using prescription medications, with or without a doctor's permission, and then transitioned into heroin use. This does not mean they never used alcohol or marijuana, or didn't struggle with one of these within their lifetime.
Every conversation that is being had about how to address the opioid issue should include how important it is to talk about prevention. Encourage everyone to have a conversation to help prevent the misuse of all substances, most importantly alcohol and marijuana, the ones most teens agree are easy to access.
With the spotlight and news attention on the dangers of opioids people have lost focus on the importance, and very real need, to talk with young people about alcohol and marijuana. Some people have developed an attitude of, "Well, at least they aren't using heroin," and that, perhaps, is the worst attitude to have. No matter your age, you do not just wake up one day and decide to use heroin. There is usually a path that leads you there, and the majority of the time it starts with alcohol and marijuana. These are still very addictive and dangerous drugs that cause a whole host of issues for young people.
To address all of these issues we can focus on building stronger communities that support youth and encourage them to enjoy all of the great things NH has to offer without the use of any substances. Together we can make sure all youth have trusted adults they can go to who support them living drug-free lives and are good role models for them to make healthy choices. For many young people this is an aunt, uncle, grandparent, teacher, coach or neighbor. It is important to note that all adults have the opportunity to make a difference in someone's life. It doesn't take a certificate or a degree, it just takes a caring heart and the will to want to help and support them.
We all hope the opioid issue will turn a corner and go away. When that happens and we turn around to take a breath, we cannot afford to face the issues associated with increased alcohol and marijuana use. Keep the conversation going and make sure to include prevention. To learn more about prevention efforts and talking points, visit www.rcfy.org or www.drugfreenh.org.
Celeste Clark, Executive Director
Raymond Coalition For Youth www.rcfy.org