Addiction Prevention: International Overdose Awareness Day
August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day. We raise awareness of addiction and overdoses because these families deal with a lifetime of pain.
International Overdose Awareness Day
2001 marks the first International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31st. Since that first day, at the hands of a few South Florida doctors, their prescriptions became responsible for the source point of a drug trade running primarily up the eastern coast of the United States. The early 2000’s mark the infamous rise of the “Pill Mill” industry, or doctors’ offices which were widely known for prescribing excessive amounts of mood-altering substances following minimal to no medical exam. Opioid Addiction, and the overdoses that come along with it, increased more rapidly during this time than law enforcement or the American Medical Association could respond.
After several years of a combination of local Florida grassroots efforts, the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program was finally approved, funded, and implemented in Florida. Now doctors and pharmacies across the state are connected to a statewide prescription drug monitoring system that alerts what mood-altering drugs are prescribed, how much, and when the patient’s limits have been reached. Finally, law enforcement and medical agencies were able to collaborate to shut down pill mills and enforce limits of mood-altering drug prescriptions.
Predictably, true to form, opioid addiction snaked its way back to the illicitly sourced drug trade. In the past decade, the HIGHLY potent opioid Fentanyl has been illegally manufactured and sold primarily as additives to existing street drugs. Fentanyl has been the primary driver and contributor to overdose deaths since 2015. (Also see Florida Public Health and Safety Alert published 7/8/22).
It's mind boggling to think of the lengths that drug addicts will go to chase their high. Even more so, what great lengths drug dealers will go to make money off the Russian Roulette product they’re selling. There is much sadness to feel at the thought of hundreds of thousands of lives lost to drug overdoses. Our sadness honors the victims and those they left behind. We affirm their lives meant something, and that something is good.
I have worked with those victims and their families for the bulk of my 25 year career. Trust me. In most of these families, at least one member was feeling deep pain before first pill was taken. And from the first pill to the last, as addiction progresses through the mires of despair, this period of time is filled with anxiety, hopelessness, guilt, resentment, rage, and every other gut-wrenching emotion you can muster.
We HAVE to raise awareness of addiction and overdoses because a lifetime of pain permeates these families. From generation, to generation, to generation, to generation. Until somebody, some descendent down the family tree says
The dysfunction stops with me.
And so what can be done to stop the generational transfer of addiction and its related dysfunction?
There is so much we could say about prevention. Since early onset of substance experimentation predicts future Substance Use Disorders, prevention is key to give youth skills and support to prevent even curious levels of use. There are many strategies available to increase Protective Factors and decrease or mitigate Risk Factors. These are factors that either increase or decrease the risk for substance use disorder. Prevention is the responsibility of adults to protect and prepare children for future choice making. A few blog paragraphs do no justice for the topic. But to give an overview, here are some of the Risk and Protective Factor categories for preventing substance abuse…
In the Community
In the Family
In the Schools
Within the Youth Individually and/or with Peer Group
Obviously, the greater number of protective factors vs. risk factors, the less likely a child will experiment with or ultimately abuse substances.
When the source of high stress, conflict, or abuse is within the child’s own family growing up, there are several specific protective factors that may reduce risk of later substance abuse:
If the child learns one thing really well that is valued by others
If the child is required to be helpful and contribute to meeting the needs of the household in some way (i.e., chores)
If the child learns she or he can ask for help
If the child can bond with a positive entity outside the immediate family such as extended family, neighbors, teachers, places of worship, hobbies
If the child has one consistent caring adult to bond with
Points of Prevention and Intervention
As you can see, there are many points of prevention and intervention from multiple sources in a child’s life. First, of course, are children’s parents, family members, and primary caregivers. Anyone who becomes a parent, biological or otherwise, has an opportunity first to role model the desired behaviors in their children. And even though children don’t come with instruction manuals, there are many resources available to educate and train parents to adapt their parenting skills and styles to what research shows are best practices. Some of those resources are therapy….imagine that!
There are also teachers, clergy, community leaders, nonprofit staff, coaches, medical professionals, day care center staff and more who work with children who can be an intentional positive influence on their lives.
And for the remainder of folks who don’t fit into any of those categories: we may not have children, or we may not even like to be around children. But, we can always live as an adult who is ready to offer a smile and to notice something positive about the children we interact with. You never know what they are experiencing at home, at school, in their private lives. Your smile, your interest, and your kind words do make a difference.
Collectively, we can all contribute to break the cycle of addiction and dysfunction in family generations. We do this by being intentional in how we live our own lives, and in how we instruct and treat the people around this. We do this one life, one family at a time.