Protect Our Children: Substance Abuse

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The North Carolina Attorney General has declared a youth mental health crisis due to the increase in depression, anxiety, and suicide in NC youths. In response, he started a series, Protecting the Next Generation of North Carolinians, to address topics including online dangers for youth, safe gun storage, and, most recently, youth substance use. I shared information about safe gun storage and online crime in my last two articles. On January 28th, the third webinar was about substance abuse. As parents and youth educators, we share a common passion for protecting our children.

Any adolescent substance misuse is abuse. This includes alcohol, cigarettes, vaping, marijuana, and pills, even prescription pills. Adolescent brains are still developing until well into their twenties. Youth addiction is harder to combat due to the developing brain because once in adulthood, those paths of addiction are firmly engraved into the mature brain. 90% of the adults diagnosed with substance use disorder began use before the age of eighteen.

Alcohol and nicotine trigger anxiety and depression in young people, yet the vape companies are targeting our kids. Jessica Dicken with The Department of Health and Human Services message for our youths is to delay use. Have conversations in small bites with them, during a walk, over an easy meal, or take advantage of teachable moments given by music, movies, and television. Try not to lecture or schedule a big talk. Just open the lines of communication and create a comfortable space for your children to talk to you anywhere and anytime they need to. Attempt to dispel the myth that everyone is doing it.

Educating our youth on the appropriate and prescribed uses of medications is important. 65% of teen users report getting prescription strength pain relievers from parents and friends, and these pills are shared freely or sold for a few dollars. A couple of ways we can reduce this percentage is by using lockable medication boxes and disposing of unused portions at drop-off locations. Operation Medicine Drop will provide these locations in our community.

Your home is not the only place our teens go to obtain substances. While OxyContin and Percocet are the most commonly abused opioids in teen circles, there are many counterfeit drugs on the streets and in our schools. Drugs like Fentanyl and Codeine can be purchased cheaply and easily off the internet, and these pills are unprotected by the regulations American pharmaceutical companies are constrained to. Scarily, for a few thousand dollars, a drug dealer can purchase industrial pill press machines and make thousands of counterfeit pills that look exactly like the real thing in about half a day. The unpredictability of ingredients, potency, and side effects in counterfeit pills and vape products being used by our teens is hugely concerning. Pills are often laced with substances intended to force dependence and addiction quickly. encourages citizens to have naloxone on hand. The use of this product doesn’t hurt an individual who is not in an opioid crisis but can save their life if they are.

Happily, overall, North Carolina substance abuse numbers are trending down, but too many high school students report vaping daily. Nicotine and cannabis are both being used. It is not “safe” and does not promote wellness. Vape liquids can have substances like Vitamin E Acetate, which was never intended to be inhaled. When heated, vape liquids can break down the metal in the pens, causing users to inhale these metal particles with all the other unhealthy substances being inhaled. Do the tobacco and alcohol retailers you use check identification before selling? If not, you should encourage them to. The minor annoyance to the legal purchaser will protect the next illegal attempt to gain access to substances.

Resources for families include Lee County DHHS with the anti-vaping program for classrooms called Catch My Breath, (don’t run call 911), and the Alcohol Drug Council of NC Resource Directory for phone numbers helpful to a family in crisis. North Carolina 4-H has the program Health Rocks to empower our youth to make better choices. The Lee County Youth Council also focuses on youth health and well-being with their community passion project this year. To find out how to participate in their efforts or for resources on this topic or others, please get in touch with Pam Kerley, the 4-H Program Assistant for North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center. 4-H is a Positive Youth Development Program offering programs that suit a variety of backgrounds, interests, budgets, and schedules. From in-school to after-school, clubs to camps, 4-H programs are available in Lee County, and we welcome children who want to have fun, learn, and grow. In North Carolina, 4-H is brought to you by the NC State Cooperative Extension. N.C. Cooperative Extension’s experts and educators share university knowledge, information, and tools you can use daily to improve your life.

The information gleaned for this article came from speakers on the third Protecting the Next Generation of North Carolinians webinar: Attorney General Josh Stein, Randy Abbott with the Alcohol/Drug Council of NC, Jessica Dicken with NC DHHS, Jarmichael Harris with Addiction Professionals of NC, and the Poe Center.

This article ran in the Sanford Herald on March 9, 2024