America's youth have not been spared from the ongoing opioid crisis.
In 2017, about 1,300 young adults per day misused an opioid prescription for the first time, according to Truth Initiative, a public health organization focused on youth and young adult prevention.
April Knight, the director of prevention services for Northwest Alabama Mental Health Center (NWAMHC), discussed local prevention efforts in a recent "Journey Series" webinar.
NWAMHC receives a grant from the Alabama Department of Mental Health to present the Community College Initiative through Bevill State Community College.
The focus is on prevention of underage drinking, binge drinking and drinking and driving. Surveys have revealed some misunderstandings with potentially deadly consequences, according to Knight.
"For some reason, they thought it was safer for them to drive with a drinking driver. They thought that was an OK thing to do. They decided that they would rather, if they are drinking, be riding with a drinking driver than they themselves be drinking and driving. I think maybe they thought there were fewer legal ramifications," Knight said.
NWAMHC also presents the Too Good for Drugs program for students in fifth through ninth grades in local schools. Age-appropriate information is given to students about alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs.
NWAMHC used a SPF-Rx grant from the Alabama Department of Mental Health to place permanent drop off boxes for unused and expired prescriptions at several locations: Police departments in Carbon Hill, Dora and Jasper, as well as the Walker County Sheriff's Office. Two drug "take back" days are planned each year, though the spring event was canceled because of the pandemic.
The SPF-Rx grant also allows NWAMHC staff to visit schools and discuss the dangers of using prescription drugs.
NWAMHC also used a "My Smart Dose" grant to fund the purchase of an inflatable Viking ship that is used at Jasper High football games. The My Smart Dose campaign emphasizes the importance of taking prescriptions as directed and not sharing them.
"What’s prescribed for you is for you—your symptoms, your weight, and your family history. If you take pills that don’t have your name on the label, you’re taking a serious risk," the campaign website states.
NWAMHC is one of four groups in the state to receive an Overdose Prevention Grant to prevent misuse of opioids as well as opioid overdoses.
Knight repeatedly emphasized the safe storage of medications during her presentation. She urged parents to lock up their medications and to count pills so they know how many should be in the bottle.
"I will never forget the co-worker who had a young child at home. They had gotten into a pain med that their elderly parent had. They had to go the hospital and call poison control. You don't want to be in that situation," Knight said.
She added that youth who develop an addiction to prescription drugs take them secretly from loved ones rather than seeking them out on the street.
Prescription drugs are especially tempting to youth who would never try marijuana or some other illegal drug, she said.
"They think it's safer when it's far from safe," Knight said.
Those working in prevention in Walker and surrounding counties battle not only misunderstandings from youth but also parental attitudes and behaviors, such as providing beer to youth on special occasions or having them drink at home where they are under supervision.
"The Journey Series" is based on "The Journey Day" offered in Jefferson County by the Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama. The Recovery Ministries partnered with the Walker County Health Action Partnership to offer it in Walker County.
Originally planned as a one-day event, the virtual series was developed after the coronavirus pandemic made in-person gatherings unsafe. It will continue each Thursday through Oct. 8.
To register, visit www.walkerrecoverymap.org/journey-series.