October is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month

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Second Annual Prevention Month Highlights Strides, Work to Do

By Jeffrey Meyers, Prevention Specialist

October marks the second annual National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, an initiative first started via White House proclamation last year. This serves as both a humbling reminder of the toll substance abuse has on our families and communities, as well as a celebration of what accomplishments have already taken place. It’s a month for reflection, a month for action, and ultimately a month for optimism.

On a National level, there is no questioning the impact of substance abuse. The 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 20.6 million Americans aged 12 and older have addictions to alcohol or drugs, including the non-medical use of prescription drugs. Such abuse is linked to a litany of costs associated with crime, health care, and otherwise lost productivity, to the tune of an estimated $416 billion dollars. That staggering figure is more than the GDP of many countries, including Israel, Thailand, and South Africa.

One can also not underscore enough the impact substance abuse has on youth especially. This is true regardless of the substance in question. Prescription drugs are the second most abused drug among teens, second only to alcohol. American youth aged between 12 and 20 account for 11% of the nation’s monthly alcohol consumption, a troubling amount in light of the 21 year old legal drinking age. Illicit drugs also represent a tremendous health and safety risk, with an estimated 23 million people over 12 years of age using some sort of illicit drug in 2010 alone.

Issues, however, are meant to be addressed and prevention efforts continue to be strong nationwide. Strategies aimed at promoting resiliency skills, especially to those exposed to substance abuse at home, have shown to be effective at reducing later use. Community-based efforts that utilize parents, officials, youth, educators, and otherwise concerned citizens can be a powerful tool in combating substance abuse. Locally, eastern Iowa is home to a number of county-wide coalitions aimed specifically at reducing substance abuse. These groups work to empower localities to take action in the form of advocacy groups for youth, county and city ordinances, as well as a wide array of educational efforts.

Iowa, as a whole, can be proud of the strides the state has made. The Iowa Youth Survey, a confidential survey completed by 6th, 8th, and 11th graders across the state gives an effective measuring tool for how students view substances as well as their rates of usage. The latest 2014 survey demonstrated that, as a whole, substance abuse remained stable and in many cases decreased from 2012. Drinking rates, for example, dropped from 19% of 11th graders within the past 30 days to 14%. This marks just one sign post that, in many ways, awareness of substance abuse issues has risen, and there is very real reason for optimism.

For some of us, the reality of substance abuse has already taken hold, rather in our own lives or in the lives of those we care about. In such instances, let October be a month where we seek to educate and support others so as to ensure they avoid the pitfalls of substance abuse and instead embrace all life has to offer by making healthy decisions.