Since colonial times, our nation has struggled to regulate and control the use and abuse of substances. During the Civil War, tobacco was considered a military ration, and opium use expanded dramatically. Just prior to the start of the 20th century, physicians and pharmacists added opium, heroin, and cocaine to a variety of patentable products as cure-alls, and society accepted them.
Over the next 100 years of United States history a variety of legislation would limit or outlaw the use of narcotics, but people still used and abused them.
We cannot solely legislate or regulate to reduce drug abuse. Instead we must rely upon a variety of methods. I believe we need to address substance abuse as a public health issue. It is not enough to recognize and treat it; we need to stop it from happening.
We need to consider the features of the population, the political landscape, the drug itself, and the community values and mores. Each drug or substance may require a unique approach. Methods that work for alcohol may not be appropriate for marijuana. A completely different approach may be needed for prescription drugs.
We need to recognize that each of us may be contributing to the challenges in subtle ways in both our personal and our professional lives. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you a good role model to your children in your own use of alcohol?
- Do you talk WITH your children or do you talk AT your children?
- Do you intervene when you believe others are impaired at home, at work, or in the community?
Partnerships also are crucial to combat the variety of substances, the variety of ages, and the variety of attitudes our young people and our society have about drug abuse.
Our teens remain the most important group to address in combating substance abuse. One of the most consistent findings among drug users is that the introduction to drugs has been almost exclusively through friends. 60% of 12th graders report that they got prescription narcotics from a friend or relative.
We need to continue to push efforts to combat drug abuse as a public health issue. It will require all of us: educators, healthcare providers, law enforcement, policy makers, legislators, philanthropists, community agencies, parents, and especially our youth. One agency or one group will not be able to combat these issues alone.
Similar to improving sanitation to reduce infectious disease, we must find solutions to drug abuse in areas like reducing truancy, improving family connections, addressing teen depression, and getting at-risk youth involved in positive asset behaviors.
On a positive note, let us not forget that the majority of teenagers are being responsible and are not drinking alcohol or using illicit drugs. We need to find ways to promote this positive message to our teens.
Unfortunately, on the path to reducing substance abuse, we will continue making small steps forward, and maybe even a few steps backward. I am willing to make those steps. I want to reduce the number of times I have to tell a mother or father that their son or daughter is dead from an overdose. I want to reduce the number of teens who are arrested for possession or use of alcohol and remanded to me every month for a discussion about substance abuse. I want to reduce the number of teens that I see on weekends in the emergency room intoxicated. With all of us helping each other, we can achieve those goals.
- Dr. William Hauda, UPC Board member, was the keynote speaker at Governor Bob McDonnell’s new prevention initiative, Substance Abuse Awareness Vital for Virginia Youth (SAVVY). The Nov. 29 event in Manassas was designed to help parents, educators and youth advocates teach teens about the dangers of substance abuse.
The Unified Prevention Coalition is Fairfax County group whose mission "is to prevent violence, alcohol, and other drug use by youth and young adults in Virginia’s most populous county." For more information, visit its website.