Archived: Next Generation Needs Our Help Avoiding Drug Abuse

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Of all the pitfalls that can threaten a child during their mental, physical, and emotional development, drug abuse is one of the hardest to recover from. After being on the decline for several years, drug use in our country has been increasing since 2008 – currently, one in ten youth aged 12 to 17 have used drugs within the last month. For young people, the number of drug-induced deaths is now higher than deaths from gunshots.

The young people using these drugs are not “bad kids.” They are our grandkids, the kids next door, and all the other youngsters we count on to be the future leaders of our country. Studies have shown repeatedly that if a young person makes it to age 21 without using drugs, then they likely never will. We must ask ourselves what we can do to prevent our children from abusing drugs in the first place.

The first part of the solution is with the family. Parents are the best messengers for discouraging drug abuse, despite what rebellious teenagers sometimes say.

Some parents are afraid to raise the subject because it might start a fight or upset their relationship with their child, and I understand why.

When I was raising my five children I was always the “enforcer” of the household, and during their teenage years my kids and I butted heads more than a few times. But when my youngest son was grown-up and it was time for his wedding day, he thanked me for the way I had raised him, and said he understood why sometimes I had to be firm.

If your child seems depressed, unhappy, or withdrawn, or if you are concerned they are spending time with kids who might be a bad influence, take time to talk with your child. Listen to what is said, and do your best not to be judgmental. Peer pressure is powerful, and making choices about drugs can be difficult for a child who wants to “fit in” and be accepted by a youth culture that sometimes conflicts with family beliefs. An honest talk can go a long way towards countering that pressure and preventing more serious problems later on.

Having the right resources in the community to help kids and parents is also critical. We need professionals we can turn to for advice, and teachers who are trained to spot the warning signs of troubled youth. I applaud the Obama Administration for its efforts in preventing drug abuse, and I recommend their website www.theantidrug.com for more information. They understand that every dollar of prevention actually saves ten dollars later on, because less young people are sent to prison, less money is spent in court, and less costly rehabilitation is needed for youngsters that should never have been allowed to go astray.

As we watch our little ones take their first steps or prepare for the next day of school, we might reflect on the dangers that might be waiting for them later in life. Some of my kids now have children of their own, and like many of us they worry about the best way to prepare them for the real world.

To help our kids, we have to work together and start early, instilling the habits that prevent drug abuse and investing in the resources that parents, grandparents, and educators can use for support. Every day, our children move one day closer to being the future of our country. We have to support them every step of the way and ensure they grow up to be mature, self-confident adults.

Congresswoman Grace Napolitano represents the 38th District and is a Democrat.

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