I recently attended a leadership forum at our nation’s capital held by CADCA (Community Anti-Drug Coalition), and I was amazed to hear that many of the issues the Southern Tier faces span across the United States.
More than 2,000 people gathered in Washington D.C. this past week to share experiences, grow as leaders, and learn about how drugs are impacting our communities. I was there as a representative for the Town of Preston, Chenango County, and the Chenango Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition.
The current National Drug Control Policy Director, Dr. Rahul Gupta, along with several other directors from years past including President Donald Trump’s selection Jim Carroll attended the forum in person.
Members of the CDC, DEA, along with CADCA’s President and CEO Major General Barrye L. Price PH.D (retired) also spoke at the forum.
So what did I learn about the opioid epidemic? Let me break down some of the key lessons I learned from these drug experts.
Protecting our youth to end this epidemic
The drug industry only works for dealers if people are buying. CADCA focuses on prevention-based tactics when battling the epidemic because you can’t get addicted to drugs or alcohol if you don’t try them.
According to the DEA, overdose deaths throughout the United States have reached a new height, claiming a new victim every five minutes. Why is this happening? Well, DEA representatives said that many drugs being sold illegally are being laced with fentanyl which is mostly being imported from China.
They said the reason this is being done is to help create counterfeit drugs or “enhanced” experiences which leads to repeat customers.
One woman’s story at the forum gave me chills. Her son, also named Zach, was a straight A student and successful senior athlete. Zach went out to a party with some friends, and at the party there were counterfeit percocet pills that were laced with fentanyl to simulate the real thing.
After taking one of the pills, Zach along with several others at the party, died from a fentanyl overdose. His mother only learned about the existence of the fake pills at the coroner's table.
Teens are curious; unless you sit down with them to talk about the risks of party drugs, alcohol, and even marijuana there can be high prices to pay which could include their lives.
Substance addiction disproportionally affects adolescents and teens. Basically, the younger you try a substance including non-prescribed medication, alcohol, or any other habit forming drug, the higher the probability of addiction or mental health issues throughout life.
Working together to push drugs out of our community
Once we get people, in particular youth, aware of the dangers associated with substance misuse, we can focus on getting the people dealing drugs like meth and heroin out of our country. The change must start from within, before we can help other communities - we must help ourselves.
Here in New York State we struggle with criminal justice reform laws releasing drug dealers with appearance tickets in most cases, but at the very least an arrest is one way of getting drugs off of the street.
We must work together with law enforcement by reporting drug activity and also fight to give judges back the discretion they need to hold individuals in jail who are both using and selling. For some, this is the only escape back into sobriety available to them, and for others it’s the only wakeup call they’ll answer to stop selling.
Jails and prisons will generally have more resources available to them to help deal with recovery, but it’s also important that different departments share the information they have when it comes to overdose rates and other drug related issues.
This was the big question I asked myself as I listened to speakers from all over the U.S. talk about the issue, and the answer is fairly simple.
Get involved with your local drug free community organization.
Those who live in Chenango County may reach out to Kyli@chenangohealth.org for additional information on the Chenango Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition (CSAPC) for adults, and The Pulse for teens.
Talk to your children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
Push your political leaders to take notice of the issue and see what they can do to help.
Anyone who is interested in learning more about my experiences throughout the trip may reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Having access to that leadership forum was an incredible blessing, and I hope that I’ll be able to put that experience to good use as a servant of the people both in my town and throughout New York State as a whole.
- Town of Preston Supervisor Zachary Meseck