When was the last time you read or heard anything positive about how our country and state are dealing with drug and alcohol abuse?
For those of us involved in the field of drug prevention and education, we cringe every time we hear the phrase “war on drugs” because we know the vast majority of Americans think it’s a losing battle.
Well, the conversation about eliminating substance abuse is changing before our eyes and finally, we may be making some real inroads.
Of course, it starts with our kids.
According to the latest figures from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, drug use among youth has declined by 25% since 2001 and that 860,000 fewer young people are using drugs than they were six years ago.
The use of drugs such as ecstasy and meth among young people have plummeted by more than half. The lethal meth labs in Oregon that used to be featured on the evening news have all but disappeared because of state legislation making pseudoephedrine products prescription-only.
Oregon teens who just a few years ago may have been intrigued by meth have learned enough about its ugliness and more are staying away from it.
None of this is by accident. Intense media coverage, prevention, education, increased awareness, and action by lawmakers and law enforcement alike, have helped keep more of our kids off drugs.
We are seeing a renewed effort among business leaders, educators, and community organizations to intensify prevention efforts.
Last week, the Portland City Council took a major step by approving a city-wide drug strategy that recognizes the need “to build and mobilize a comprehensive, community-wide social movement to address this issue.”
Medical science is making dramatic inroads in understanding the effects of the brain – especially the teenage brain – on drug and alcohol abuse. Researchers are learning more – practically monthly – on the neurological effects of substance abuse and how to translate that into improved treatment of addiction.
And the researchers tell us the verdict is in: The longer we can keep our teens from using alcohol and other drugs, the much better chance they’ll have of not having problems in adulthood.
But let’s not fool ourselves. According to the Oregon Healthy Teens Survey, more high school kids now smoke marijuana than cigarettes. And make no mistake – today’s pot is a lot more potent than it used to be in the last generation.
Oregon Partnership’s crisis lines are getting more calls from young people who are becoming addicted to prescription drugs, which is probably the most frightening new trend in the country’s drug abuse landscape.
About a third of our teens abuse alcohol, and binge drinking on college campuses is practically an epidemic. A recent U.S. Surgeon General’s report found that underage drinking is viewed as a rite of passage and facilitated by adults.
But parents need to understand that they are the biggest influence in children’s lives, and the more they talk to their children about the dangers of drugs and underage drinking (and the conversation should start in grade school!), the less likely their kids will give in to peer pressure.
There’s a hopeful precedent in this battle, and it came to the forefront in 1982 when the U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop issued his no-nonsense warning about the health dangers of tobacco.
The percentage of Americans who smoke has declined steadily since – it’s now at 17% according to the new Harris Poll – with the culture and acceptance of cigarette smoking in this country continuing to dismantle. This would have seemed unfathomable less than just a generation ago.
The same phenomenon can be applied to drugs and underage drinking with a renewed dedication by all of us.
Judy Cushing, President/CEO