I’ll start this community post at the end: In the end, community will be the biggest factor in ending the addiction epidemic.
Community. Not just law enforcement, emergency service providers, and addiction treatment professionals. Not just the addicts themselves, but all of us. You, me, elected officials, employers, educators and administrators, neighbors … all of us.
Anyone can be a community leader, a community hero who has a hand in reigning in this disease that is eating away at our populace.
First as individual communities and a state collective of communities, we have to do our good faith best to try to save the life of every active addict, which is a difficult task. It’s also a burden that not all community members want to accept and embrace.
Different factions have different views on what constitutes recovery, what forms of treatment should be available and at what profit margin, how to hold providers accountable, who should pay, etc. I hope policy-makers, program funders, and community members start to move toward more consensus more quickly in this regard because we are talking about life and death health and mental health care.
Let’s just say, hypothetically, though, that we were dealing with a utopian policy-making situation and a variety of treatment modalities were available to large numbers of people in an affordable delivery system. We’d save a lot more lives, no doubt, and that’s a worthy goal to work toward; however, even if we were to achieve it, we wouldn’t save everyone.
I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true. There are lots of folks who have lost loved ones to addiction who know exactly what I mean. Sometimes, no matter how much someone is loved or has access to treatment, no matter how many interventions are done or consequences suffered, the addiction ends up being fatal.
Sometimes the fatality occurs before the addiction has fully developed. More potent drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil (an elephant tranquilizer) are making the street opiate market even more deadly than it was with just prescription pills and heroin.
When we are up against drugs like that and an interstate/international heroin market the feds refuse to get a handle on, we won’t be able to save every single active addict. Still, we have to try, hope that we will, and experience all the joy and sadness inherently involved.
What do we do with all that joy and sadness? As individual communities and a state collective, we need to channel it and direct it toward our children. We need to use all that joy and sadness as fuel to motivate ourselves to intervene in young lives before addiction starts. It’s much easier to save lives before addiction starts.
And there are so many ways to intervene, so many ways any one of us can be a community leader — some child’s hero — someone who singlehandedly interrupts the growth of the epidemic. How?
Start by reading a series done by the BDN Maine Focus team, Before Addiction, There’s a Child. The hyperlink is to the introductory article, and a link to the next is included at the end of it and each of the following articles.
In the series, the Maine Focus team covers just about every aspect of youth intervention, from identifying at risk youth to the gamut of available drug prevention curricula. Each article unfolds like a call to action.
Calls to and from educators, administrators, and local officials to rethink discipline policies, mental and behavioral health supports, and even basic interactions with students. Calls to you and me to find ways to become mentors to children and teens through programs like Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
The series includes the thoughts and experiences of Maine youth. One passage about what kids want from their schools was especially insightful:
•“Deepen the personal/emotional side of substance abuse in health class.”
•“Stop the ‘don’t do this, don’t do that,’ but instead give reasons and feedback.”
•Instruction in: “Coping skills, stress relievers, life skills and acceptance.”
We should listen to these young people. The things they are asking for and the things these articles discuss will serve to nip the epidemic in the bud by preventing addiction from developing. These things build children’s sense of belonging to a community.
These things are also good for the larger community because they help youth develop into healthy community members who contribute rather than cost. Even the kids know that in the end, community will be the biggest factor in ending the addiction epidemic.