Written by Ericka Adams-Pursley, Peer Support Specialist for the Catawba Nation
Substance use disorders directly affect millions of Americans every year. Too many lives are lost due to substance-related motor vehicle crashes, crimes, injuries, reduced quality of life, and overall impaired health. It is time to change how our society views and addresses alcohol and substance use disorders.
A national opioid overdose epidemic has captured the attention of the public as well as federal, state, local, and tribal leaders across the country. The moral obligation to address substance misuse and substance use disorders effectively for all Americans also aligns with a strong economic imperative. Substance misuse and substance use disorders are estimated to cost society $442 billion each year in healthcare costs, lost productivity, and criminal justice costs.
The fastest-growing drug problem in the United States isn’t cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamines – it’s prescription drugs, and it’s profoundly affecting the lives of teenagers. Sadly, prescription drug misuse and abuse among young people is not an insignificant problem. According to National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) data on youth and young adults, more than 5,700 youth in 2014 reported using prescription pain relievers without a doctor’s guidance for the first time. A common misperception is that prescription drugs are safer or less harmful to one’s body than other kinds of drugs. However, there is a range of short and long-term health consequences for each type of prescription drug when used inappropriately. Since our brains continue to develop until we reach our early- to mid-twenties, these impacts can be particularly harmful to a developing adolescent brain and body.
Stimulants have side effects in common with cocaine, and may include paranoia, dangerously high body temperatures, and an irregular heartbeat, especially if stimulants are taken in large doses or in ways other than swallowing a pill.
Opioids act on the same parts of the brain as heroin. They can cause drowsiness, nausea, and, depending on the amount taken, slowed or labored breathing. This can also cause overall stress to the respiratory and cardiac systems.
Depressants can cause slurred speech, shallow breathing, fatigue, disorientation, lack of coordination, and seizures upon withdrawal from chronic use.
So, what’s the solution? Here are several ways to minimize and address prescription/illicit drug misuse and abuse among young people.
Education: Parents, children, and prescribers must be educated on the impact of prescription drugs on the developing brain.
Safe medication storage and disposal: Two-thirds of teens who misused pain relievers in the past year say that they got them from family and friends. This included their home’s medicine cabinets, making it important to safeguard medicine in the home. Safe storage and disposal of medications diminish opportunities for easy access.
Prevention Programs: Benefits of prevention programs within communities include higher productivity, lower treatment costs, less suffering, and prevention of premature mortality. These programs also contribute to developing more cohesive families as well as happier, better adjusted, more successful youth.
Treatment Services: Substance abuse treatment benefits us all simply by helping those in need. Far too often, substance abuse and crime go hand-in-hand. In fact, 65 % of inmates in America meet some of the medical criteria for addiction, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. Substance abuse treatment is good for the healthcare system, too. Treatment programs are much less costly than other alternatives, such as incarceration. Drug and alcohol addiction also influences our community’s workforce. It’s estimated that $ 74 billion is lost every year in reduced work productivity due to alcohol consumption.
Honest conversations about addiction and substance use are necessary and must happen. The goals of Catawba Nation Family Services Divisions through early intervention, education/training, and community programs are to reduce the harms associated with substance misuse, reduce risk behaviors before they lead to injury, improve health and social function, and reduce the rate of overdose and loss of life. No Catawba citizen is alone in their challenges with substance use. Through the culture of our tribe and the strength of our community, we can work together to change the future for the betterment of our people now and for generations to come.