Protecting Our Children from Addiction – Part 3

by Larry Moliterno

The last few months we’ve been discussing why, as a community, we don’t protect our children from addiction like we protect them from car accidents, sunburn, and other diseases/safety hazards. But how do we start to do this?

We first have to remember that this is not just a school problem, it’s a community problem. School-based efforts should be made in context with other programs and support in the community.

Studies show that strategies work best when they are integrated and reinforce each other — at home, in schools, within the community, and in the media. So if we bring the whole community together, we’ll see a real impact.

What can schools do? Schools can institute more prevention programs — in a more formal educational model, and in a less formal peer-driven model like Meridian’s PANDA program. These programs have been proven to be effective in not only reducing drug use, but also in reducing negative behaviors. Schools can also create more opportunities for extracurricular activities in addition to sports. Students taking part in these extracurricular activities are less likely to be involved in drug use. Schools can look at truancy and behavioral issues as an opportunity to get to the root of the problem — shifting the focus from punishing bad behavior toward prevention and providing help and support.

What can parents do?

Believe it or not, parents — your children are listening to you. When kids who don’t drink were asked who was their number-one influence in making that decision, they said their parents. Take advantage of that time you have with them to talk with them — and more importantly, listen. Get to know what they want out of life, their dreams and aspirations.

What can legislators do?

Legislators can help enact laws that keep drugs out of young people’s reach and help remove the barriers for people trying to access treatment. Legislators can also help restore the Safe and Drug-Free School dollars that have been taken away from our schools.

What can religious leaders do? 

Religious leaders can use the power of the pulpit to raise awareness of the addiction problem in our community and help connect people to community resources.

What can medical professionals do? 

Routine annual medical visits are an opportunity to identify mental health and drug use issues. We need more medical professionals to recommend these screenings, which will help identify problems like depression or drug use early on.

What can business leaders do? 

Business leaders can create more mentoring opportunities for kids to get involved locally. Being involved helps kids develop a sense of purpose and real hope for their future.

What can law enforcement do?

Local law enforcement can create more juvenile diversion programs to help families who have a child who is just beginning down the wrong path. These programs will help address the problem before it gets worse.

What can treatment providers do?

Treatment providers should be addressing the whole person, rather than just focusing on his or her drug use or mental health illness. Let’s build up that recovery capital that helps prevent any future use and work hard to provide immediate access into treatment.

What can the media do?

They can help us tell our story and help celebrate the positive results of the community’s efforts.

That’s real prevention.

Is it going to be easy?

Absolutely not.

But if we invest our skills, our resources and our energies into working together to protect our kids — in a true, diverse, community-based prevention strategy —we’ll be successful, and we all will benefit.