October is here with shorter days, cooler temperatures and the excitement of football games, pumpkins and harvest celebrations – all signs of the season that we eagerly look forward to each year. But did you know that October has an even greater significance? In 2011, President Obama issued the first-ever Presidential Proclamation designating October as “National Substance Abuse Prevention Month.” Why is this important? The ongoing opiate epidemic illustrates the far reaching impact that substance abuse has on our community. Research shows a correlation between drug use and traffic crash deaths, lost productivity and poor academic performance. Illicit drug use also contributes to higher HIV transmission rates and puts children at risk for abuse and neglect (1). It’s time for our work to be proactive and prevent the damage before it happens.
Preventing substance use before it begins, especially among young people, is the most cost effective and common sense way to reduce drug use and its consequences (2). The most effective drug prevention starts at the local level and needs the commitment of all members of our community. Drug Free Stark County, working together with parents, youth, schools, law enforcement, churches and community leaders from across Stark County, will use this month-long observance to spotlight the role that prevention plays in promoting safe and healthy communities. As a recipient of the Drug Free Communities Support Program, Drug Free Stark County knows that local problems require local solutions; which is why we are proud to partner with local prevention groups like the Sandy Valley Drug Awareness Initiative, the Lake Community Cares Committee, the Alliance Anti-Drug Committee and Minerva’s Hope to assist with the identification of their local substance use problems and to develop prevention strategies that tackle their concerns. Positive messages, highlighting healthy choices and drug-free activities communicated and reinforced throughout the community are all key to effective prevention. Effective substance abuse prevention is not a one-and-done event or program, but a strategic plan developed to create sustainable community-level change.
So what can you do? Learn more about substance abuse and misuse in Stark County – join the conversation at one of the many community meetings this month. Participate in the community surveys that are being conducted this month. Ask your children about the substance use issues they encounter. Advocate for evidence-based prevention curriculum at your child’s school. Create a prevention plan for your home and make sure your family members understand its importance and agree to enforce it. Hold your elected officials accountable and make sure that policies and laws are in place that will support the prevention of substance abuse. Use the resources found at StarkMHAR.org to initiate conversations with your children, to learn more about emerging drug trends and to find safe medication disposal sites. And consider joining our important work – everyone is welcome and needed at the coalition table. Together, we can create a prevention plan that will protect our children and our communities.