A few weeks ago, I wrote that if we failed to act soon on the Toledo regional heroin epidemic, young people of promise would start dying in the suburbs and the reaction would be: How can it be happening here? And, why didn’t we do more?
Now it has happened. Readers have written to tell of young people of promise whom they know have overdosed.
The new heroin craze — and talk to any Toledo area cop or firefighter, it is an epidemic — is rampant among young athletes. They get sports injuries and are susceptible to pain-pill addiction. From there, the transfer to heroin is all too easy.
Last week I attended an evening meeting of SCAT, the Sylvania Community Action Team. This is a citizen’s group focused on prevention and parenting. The subject was prescription drug abuse and heroin addiction among our youths. The meeting was a good one.
Two messages emerged from parents who have been through hell with their own kids:
1) Don’t bury your head in the sand. This stuff is just as accessible, and as tempting, to good kids as “troubled” kids.
2) Stay closely involved in your children’s lives and don’t be intimidated by the possibility that your family might be thought uncool.
There was also some sound practical advice. For example: Keep the computers in a common family space. Don’t let your child vanish into his room and private electronic communication. Second, don’t let your kid “stay over at a friend’s.” Just don’t. That’s where and when trouble starts.
I applaud SCAT, which has more town hall meetings coming up, because it is trying to be proactive. Honesty and plain talk is powerful.
But we need more.
Two Saturdays ago, I went to my first Al-Anon meeting — Al-Anon is the organization for the family and friends of alcoholics. I don’t have an alcoholic family member right now, but a Blade reader who has been following my occasional columns educating myself on addiction invited me to come to her Al-Anon meeting, with prior notice and approval of the members.
Two things really stuck with me from that meeting. One lady said, “Addiction is a family disease.” Another said, “I have the genes and the predisposition. I’m just not using.” These are consistent themes among addicts. Addiction is a disease — a disease of the body and the spirit.
So, watchful parenting is great. But even people deeply involved in SCAT have profound and long histories with family members who have this disease. Rarely do you meet a drunk or addict who is the first in his family. And people fighting their own family history and genetics will need more than warnings. They need preventive treatment, and they need to be working with some kind of program.
I’d like to see a youth-drug prevention approach that is more than “just say no,” or “scared straight.” I’d like to see a prevention program based on some of the core principles of the AA Big Book — like the ability to accept others without judgment or the desire to change them. Or like the ability to accept lack of control over all things. We need to educate the vulnerable in the psychology of addiction.
We need to dig deeper into drug-prevention education. We need an AA-based program for teens.
Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6266.