Kate Elkins: Youth substance abuse

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You are probably familiar with the great media campaigns created by the Office of National Drug Control Policy and others — Above the Influence, The Anti-Drug — to counteract the negative advertising that bombards youths every day. While these campaigns are incredibly important and effective, our kids also deserve to hear these messages from people they know and who care about them, rather than just from the media. They need and deserve us — their parents, caregivers, educators, community leaders and role models — to take action, get involved and make a difference in their lives and their community.

We can work together to prevent substance abuse by being involved in our children’s lives and providing resources, activities and support to the youths of our community. According to statistics compiled by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, half of all lifetime cases of mental and substance use disorders begin by age 14, and three-fourths by age 24. On an average day, 4,617 youths younger than 18 use an illicit drug for the first time, and 2,000 teens each day use a prescription drug for the first time that wasn’t prescribed to them. In 2011, at least 22 youths ages 20 or younger in Routt County visited the emergency room with a diagnosis of alcohol and drug dependence or abuse.  

Substance abuse often starts early. Now is the time for us to make a difference in Routt County by joining together, identifying resources, support systems and alternatives for youths in our community and raising awareness about the importance of prevention. Just talking to youths about substance use and abuse and being involved in their lives can make a difference. Youths ages 12 to 17 who thought their parents strongly would disapprove of their using substances were less likely to use that substance than were youths who thought their parents somewhat would disapprove or neither approve nor disapprove. In 2010, youths ages 12 to 17 whose parents always or sometimes engaged in monitoring behaviors — like helping with homework — used illicit drugs, smoked cigarettes and binge drank less frequently than those whose parents seldom or never engaged in such behaviors.  

Grand Futures Prevention Coalition encourages all parents of tweens and teens to have a conversation about alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other drugs as part of National Substance Abuse Prevention Month in October. Resources on how to start the conversations are featured this month on the Grand Futures website, www.grandfutures.org. Let’s work together to raise awareness about this important issue and identify ways in which we can each take action to make a difference in our own lives, our children’s lives and in our community.

Kate Elkins

Routt County director of Grand Futures Prevention Coalition

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