Drug Addiction Expert Breaks Down The Up-tick In Adolescent Overdoses
Paul Lavella of Summit Behavioral Health weighs in on the significant climb in overdose deaths of those under the age of 18.
September 22, 2017
(press release: summitbehavioralhealth) // New Jersey // Maria Ulmer MA, LMFT, CAADC | Chief Clinical Officer
When it comes to acknowledging the Opioid Epidemic, the US has been faced with some harsh realities over the past several months. Most notable of all is a recent report from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) which cites findings that the leading cause of death for Americans under 50 years of age is now Accidental Death by Drug Overdose. The 2016 count of lives lost exceeds 64,000 and is a 19% increase from the previous year’s 52,000. These figures are heartbreaking.
Perhaps a more important statistic to notice is that overdose deaths for adolescents (the 12-17 year old demographic) are up as well: A striking similarity, 19% increase in the past year. This information is significant. Not just in the alarm that this news creates, but it also begs a different approach in how to address the problem.
Several governmental actions have been taken to curb the effects of this devastating crisis. Many states have adopted Good Samaritan Laws, which encourage bystanders to call law enforcement for help, if there is concern for a potential overdose, without fear of prosecution for being involved in illicit activities themselves; federal regulations hold heavy sanctions on misguided prescribers who may be buffering their revenues by pumping out scripts for prescription opioids; the release of the overdose-reversing drug Narcan and subsequent funding for free community trainings, with ease of access through your physician or local pharmacy…These efforts are worth mention and are certainly needed, however, do not address the full picture.
Where is the haste toward prevention?
In my 13 years working in the mental health and addictions counseling field, I can list over a dozen adolescent treatment programs (that I was personally acquainted with) that have closed simply due to lack of census. Services were being offered, but few were using them. Some of these programs, responding to an increase of young adults (18-26-year-olds) in need of treatment, converted their juvenile programs to fit the business’s needs, says Paul Lavella Director, of Alumni Services with Summit Behavioral Health
Alongside the trend for more young adults seeking treatment, service providers continued to see further declines in adolescents accessing services. In essence, what we are seeing is a decrease of identification in teens and an increase as they transition into adulthood. There’s something horribly wrong with this picture. As a culture, we are being reactive to a crisis as opposed to placing efforts to be proactive. This, unfortunately, is a making of the tragedy we see on the news each and every day.
Yes, prevention does exist, however it is fragmented at best. Most common prevention efforts take place in the school setting. One of the most frequently used school-based prevention programs has been empirically suggested to be ineffective, and yet the program gets renewed year after year in some states. Some states’ education departments require that school boards employ a specialist to handle substance use and other crises in their students, however, these professionals often occupy several roles within the district and their time is often stretched too thin. Programming targeting parents to provide information on current trends and concerns regarding substance use are lightly attended. I’ve facilitated many of these workshops myself; in a student population of 1200, if you can get 20 parents to attend, you’re in luck!
One thing is blatantly clear: when we are not appropriately addressing substance use and addiction in adolescence, we are inundated with young adults literally fighting for their lives shortly thereafter.
“It’s not that the approach we are taking to the Opioid Crisis is wrong, rather that it is incomplete. We need to start the conversation about drug use and addiction at an early age. And no, Just Say No is not an acceptable means of prevention. Just Say No is something that we feel more comfortable doing. We can just check it off the list, say that we ‘had the conversation,’ and be done with it. In order to create change, we have to be okay with getting uncomfortable. This is how we’re going to save these kids lives,” says Paul Lavella Director, of Alumni Services with Summit Behavioral Health
Talk to your families about substance use. If you have a family history of addiction, all the more reason to – your children may have a predisposition. Go to prevention programs offered in your community. Most, if not all, are free. Bring your kids with you. Talk about the program on the drive home. Have family dinners once in awhile. Bring up any pop-culture or media references to overdose deaths and listen to their reactions. Reach out and call the school your child attends to find out how they address prevention. Acquaint yourself with the personnel who coordinates it. Introduce your child too. Research other agencies in your community and participate or volunteer in their events from time to time.
There are limitless ways that we can make small impacts in our families and our communities. Stigma usually holds us back. Stigma also adds to this crisis. However, if we are more active in our prevention efforts, not only will we see a reduction in adolescent overdoses, over time we will not have an opioid epidemic on our hands.
Wellness Based Counseling is a concept very dear to my heart. At the root of it, the counseling relationship is not solely focused on “the problem,” rather how you go about life’s journey in a way that leads you toward feeling and being well. Counseling is not about pathologizing; it’s about learning what’s not working and figuring out what will.
Paul is dually Licensed in the State of New Jersey as a Professional Counselor and a Clinical Alcohol & Drug Counselor with thirteen years of professional experience working with adolescents, adults, and families. As an Approved Clinical Supervisor, I also provide supervision for those seeking licensure for counseling or addiction counseling.
Embarking on a journey towards wellness and recovery is perhaps the bravest and most inspiring thing a person can do. At Summit Behavioral Health we are here for you every step of the way.