Prevention Is Not Just Another Catch Phrase

Everywhere you turn someone is talking about the war on drugs. Opiate addiction claims 16,000 lives annually, surpassing alcoholism in many regions of the United States. Missouri, Ohio, California, Arizona, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Massachusetts are but a few States boasting grass root movements, calling attention to the opiate epidemic, especially among the teen population. Parents and concerned citizens have taken it upon themselves to educate their communities about the fact “heroin is in your town too!” And while communities are waking up and facing the problem head on, it appears the government is lagging behind.

The Federal Government recently published the 2013 budget, announcing the allocation of funds for both prevention and treatment of addictions. The government has heard the outcry for more federally funded rehabs for the under or uninsured, and those without the financial assistance for a program. In 2012 over $8.7 billion dollars were spent on treatment programs nationally; $9.2 billion dollars are proposed for early intervention and treatment services for individuals with drug problems. This represents an increase of 4.6 percent ($403.0 million) over the FY 2012 enacted funding level. On the flip side, Federal resources totaling $1.4 billion support education and outreach programs aimed at preventing the initiation of drug use. This represents a nearly 1 percent decrease ($-12.9 million) over the FY 2012 budget. These lopsided figures are representative of what is wrong with the war on drugs; it is reactionary instead of proactive.

My son, who is currently 6 months clean from a horrible, almost life-ending heroin addiction, asked me what could be done to prevent addiction from occurring. “It’s everywhere, Mom. How is talking about it going to help?” Honestly, I don’t know, but we have to start somewhere. During our nine- year struggle with addiction, we were met with closed doors and buried heads. The resources were out of our reach and prevention was not heard of, as it was a disease of stigma and shame. Stevie had to be in the ‘system’ to receive federal or state level assistance; law enforcement was reluctant to arrest him before 18, as he would get a minor sentence that would not keep him off the streets. The school system didn’t have a problem, my son did. It appeared the only help we were going to get was building a “three strikes and you’re out” case against my son. And this budget reflects the same cautionary and reactive stance the government took nine years ago.

What does prevention look like? Prevention starts in the home, with parents talking openly and honestly with their sons/daughters. It starts with locking up the medicine cabinet and destroying unused prescriptions. But it only starts there. Talk to an addict and they say the same thing every time. “If I had only known, I wouldn’t have done….” We shelter our children from the news when a lone gunman massacres 26 innocent people, 20 of whom were 7 or under. We shield their eyes from the destruction caused by earthquakes, hurricanes, even acts of terror. But we let them watch glorified versions of addiction as a form of entertainment. My son told me had he heard from someone his own age describe the squalor they lived in while chasing the dragon, going days without a shower, a meal, or a place to lay their head; or If he had witnessed or heard first hand the struggles the addict faced, instead of being forced to listen to those twice his age lecture him on what not to do, things might have been different. Teens all think it can’t happen to them, when in fact, it is exactly the teens it is happening to at an alarming rate.

Some people say programs like DARE do not work. I think waiting until 12 years of age to educate children about drug use and abuse is too late. We need to start DARE and other drug educational programs in kindergarten with students and parent involvement. Some ideas to aide in the education and prevention of drug abuse are: Mandatory participation in a drug prevention program starting their first day in school; mandatory participation in the PTO, forums designed to keep the parents and the community informed on the status of  drug activities in their community, and mandatory parent /pupil participation in order for the student to be able to participate in athletics, after school activities, dances and graduation ceremonies.

We added metal detectors in schools and closed campuses; why not invite drug dogs and random drug testing into the schools as well? We have this crazy notion students have the right to privacy; when I was in school, I was basically property of my high school and searches could be conducted without my parents permission or mine. Even my own son said had the school brought in drug dogs and made an example out of him, he might have been scared straight. We added and then removed school resource officers from the schools because it was too expensive, but after the Newton Massacre, there is now a new -found outcry for armed security in our schools again. The fact is, your son/daughter is at ten times greater risk to being exposed to illicit drug use than being the target of a lone crazed gunman. And yet, we still don’t take the drug epidemic seriously enough to enact change in our schools.

As more and more families are torn apart from the consequences of drug use and abuse, education and prevention take on new meaning. It is not good enough anymore to only teach about the dangers of drug addiction and the consequences, we need to educate parents not only on the signs of drug abuse, but how to handle their drug addicted son or daughter. We need to teach the difference between tough-love and enabling, provide family support and out reach programs; we need to provide and educate on the use of narcan (used to try to reverse a drug overdose); and work to enact laws such as the Good Samaritan Law, to aide in the prevention of overdose.

It appears to me the government has thrown up their hands and surrendered to the war on drugs as a lost cause. The budget reflects a “we can’t prevent them mentality “and focuses on dealing with the fall out of addiction: rehabilitation and punishment. There has to be  another way. Prevention is not a cure-all, and neither is Education. However, I believe if we spent more time facing the problem head on, instead of burying our heads and pretending it doesn’t exist, we can make a difference in our communities. Grass root movements like “Not One More” in Simi Valley California, TINHIHFoundation in Tucson, Arizona, and the anti-heroin rallies in Illinois and Missouri are working separately and corporately to raise awareness, provide education and provide prevention strategies in their communities without funding from the government. It starts with one and it starts at home. It takes a village to raise a child; it takes the nation to win the war on drugs. There is no hero in heroin, only those who overcome.

Janice Nargi, a single mother of two, is a registered nurse who worked in enough ER’s to know the signs of addiction, but failed to recognize them in her own son. Through her popular blog, There Is No Hero In Heroin, she has exposed the reality of teenage heroin addiction, allowing other families to benefit and learn from her experience. An active member of Al-Anon. Nar-Anon, and several online addiction recovery groups, Jan’s credentials are in the field of hard knocks. She has utilized her twenty-eight years  leadership experience to form the There is No Hero in Heroin foundation, and established the annual World Wide Black Monday Event to raise awareness for loved ones lost to addiction.