Saving Our Kids From Opioid Addiction One School at a Time

If we are going to reach kids with effective messages about the dangers of abusing prescription drugs and alcohol, these messages probably need to be delivered at the local level. An anti-drug campaign in Southern California is doing just that.Created in response to increased drug and alcohol use among teens in the South Bay beach cities area of Los Angeles, South Bay Families Connected (SBFC) is a nonprofit grassroots group that was founded to improve teen wellness and to warn young people and their parents about how to guard against drug and alcohol abuse.Kicked off during #SBOpioidAwarenessWeek in May 2017 with its launch of The South Bay Opioid Awareness Project, the group partners with local schools and organizations to educate teens, parents, teachers and administrators about the dangers of prescription drug misuse and abuse. Through videos, presentations and discussion panels that are offered free to students and the community, the project aims to start a conversation that encourages safe use, storage, and disposal of prescription drugs to keep them out of the hands of kids.
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Opioid Addiction in Our Community: Justin’s Story

A key message of the project is that opioid abuse and addiction can happen to anyone and in any family. In a series of powerful YouTube video clips, South Bay resident Cyndi Strand, SBFC ambassador, blogger and speaker, reflects on the loss of her son, Justin, to opioid addiction and overdose.

“It can happen to anyone … I look at my Justin and I have to ask, ‘How did you get where you got?’ I just don’t understand how it happened,” Strand says. “He had everything going for him. He had a good family, good looks, he was intelligent, creative, kind and loving … this kid should be married now, have a family and a career — all the things that you think are going to happen when you have a baby, but drugs change all that and take all of it away.”

In the three-part video series of Justin’s story, Strand recounts how his drug problem cropped up in high school, beginning with his use of marijuana that escalated to his abuse of the opioid pain pills that he received for a back injury. Strand’s shame about Justin’s drug problem prevented her from talking about it or reaching out for help, and she now regrets that she didn’t intervene early and send Justin to an addiction treatment program for young adults.

Strand’s story illustrates how addiction can happen even to kids who grow up in a loving and supportive home because parents can miss the early signs of drug use and aren’t able to intervene before things get worse.

What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids

Most teens don’t realize how harmful prescription medications can be. Many assume that a drug from a doctor must be safe to use, and they often don’t realize the risk of developing physical drug tolerance that can advance to drug addiction — or how rapidly this can occur.

It is important to keep both alcohol and prescription medications locked up and out of reach, out of sight or out of the house altogether. Be alert for signs that your teen might be abusing or misusing drugs or alcohol.

Signs of drug use in teens can be subtle. The Promises Young Adult Program in West Los Angeles warns that drug and alcohol use often begin during the summer months when kids have more time on their hands, less supervision and are often exposed to new social circles and influences. Once school starts up again in the fall, summer experimentations can advance to more serious use. Working closely with teachers and administrators at your child’s school can help you spot early indications of a problem.

The Promises Young Adult Program advises parents to be on the lookout for early signs and symptoms that can indicate your teen might be struggling with emotional or psychological problems and/or has started experimenting with drugs or alcohol.

Drug or alcohol use may be occurring if your child has…

  • Stopped participating in sports or quit a club or other school activity they used to enjoy
  • Started hanging out with a new group of kids or has cut off contact with old friends
  • Become increasingly moody, less motivated, less attentive and generally less reliable about homework or other school responsibilities
  • Gotten more secretive about their activities and drops out of contact for long periods, avoiding your calls or texts
  • Dodging questions about what they are doing or how they are feeling, spending more time alone and generally being more guarded
  • Sleeps more or seems groggier and harder to wake up in the morning
  • Been asking for more money, putting unauthorized charges on your credit card, or even stealing money or valuables from you
  • Undergone changes in their appearance with noticeable weight gain/weight loss or a change in how they dress or manage their personal hygiene

If you notice any of these signs in your teen, it is time to take action. Have a conversation with your teen about how things are going and any changes that need to be made before things get out of hand. And, if you see a need, invite your child’s school to get involved in a local drug and alcohol addiction prevention campaign to raise awareness in your community.

Additional Resources

Science Says: Why Are Opioids So Addictive? A video from the Associated Press, May 2017.

Resources for parents in the South Bay area of Los Angeles

Resources for teens in the South Bay area of Los Angeles

Information about opioid addiction and prevention campaigns in states across the U.S., SAMHSA.

Drug rehab for adults and teens, Elements Behavioral Health

Posted on July 27th, 2017
Posted in Articles

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