How old were you when you first started using? How old was your son or daughter? As a high school teacher, I am acutely aware of the frequent use of alcohol, marijuana, and vaping. Use of these substances has become “normal,” or accepted. Unfortunately, Some of our teens also have access and exposure to pills, cocaine, heroin or meth. Fentanyl overdoses make the news as an adult problem, but are also happening with those under 18.
According to an article in the Journal of Adolescent Health, “Addressing the Critical Problem of Substance Use Through Health Care, Research, and Public Policy,” Feinstein, Richter and Foster, 2 012:
5% of those under 18 who use addictive substances are poly- substance users. Their still – developing brains respond differently than the adult brain , making them more likely to become addicted once they begin using substances.
Although prevention and education efforts have made a difference, there are still too many of our youth putting their lives in danger. The 2018 Monitoring the Future survey from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (drugabuse.gov) reports that 35.9% of high school seniors say they used marijuana in the past year, with sedatives or other pills- 5%, opioids- 3.4%. This is too many possible overdoses, too many opportunities for future crisis.
Once a person turns 18, treatment options open up dramatically. We have multiple pathways to recommend. Begin with detox, then treatment, than sober living homes if needed. Detox programs do not accept minors. Even programs like Teen Challenge have limited availability for those under 18. I recently found myself searching for help for an adolescent in trouble. I reached out to our connections locally, with everyone saying no. I then began to broaden my search to larger programs, finding that there are few programs for this age group. Charlotte has several adolescent outpatient centers- expensive or overwhelmed. Why can we not commit to helping our youth in need? The 3.4 % of seniors using opioids are lives worth saving. The 15 year old sophomores who still think its cool to get high are lives worth saving. The girls who are forced to prostitute themselves for more drugs are lives worth saving. But how?
When I hear of a child, under the age of 18, having repeated overdoses on Fentanyl, it breaks my heart. I understand that our mental health system is already overwhelmed, but there must be a way to help these children. We cannot continue to let them go until they are 18 to intervene. Almost everyone I know who has struggled with addiction started young. The drug of choice may have changed, but the chain was hung around their neck.
What if we had stopped it?
Connection is a vital part of the recovery process. How do we get them connected to our youth groups, our schools, our support groups? The church may feel a problem like this is way over their head and just plan to refer them on to someone else- but who? How do we show God’s love to ” the least of these ” who happen to be under 18?
I don’t have an answer for this. All I know is that I don’t want to give up.
I would love to hear your comments and thoughts. Maybe together we can be the difference for someone.