Last year, we were honored to have General Arthur T. Dean, CADCA’s Chairman and CEO, as our guest blogger. He has agreed to join us once again to provide insight about the role of empathy as coalitions address the prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse challenges in their communities.
As I was coming into work today, I was listening to a report on National Public Radio – E is for Empathy: Sesame Workshop Takes a Crack at Kindness. The Sesame Workshop, which introduced Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch and other Sesame Street characters who we know and love, recently conducted a survey among 2,000 parents and 500 teachers. The survey asked, “What’s more important for our children, having good grades or building kindness and empathy?” It turns out that the large majority of parents and teachers are most concerned about building kindness in our children. They said that we need to teach them, “what it looks like, how to cultivate it and why there isn’t enough of it in this world.”
Indeed, when we talk about prescription and other forms of drug abuse prevention, kindness and empathy are critical to the success of our efforts. And for the past 24 years, CADCA (Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America) has been in the business of supporting the development of strong coalitions, which must be empathetic to their communities’ specific drug abuse-related problems in order for them to create and implement strategies that will resonate with their citizens.
October is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month (NMAAM), a time when we place an emphasis on the misuse and abuse of prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Here’s what the latest data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use and Health, tells us about this problem:
- In 2015, an estimated 6.4 million Americans aged 12 or older were current misusers of psychotherapeutic drugs.
- An estimated 492,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 misused psychotherapeutic drugs in the past month.
- An estimated 1.8 million young adults aged 18 to 25 were current misusers of psychotherapeutic drugs.
- There were 4.1 million adults aged 26 or older who were current misusers of psychotherapeutic drugs.
While this information gives us a high-level view, those who work on the ground know the realities of prescription and OTC medicine abuse all too well. We know the teen athletes whose lives were cut short after they attended a party where pills of all shapes and sizes were available for the taking; or that tweens and teens showing so much promise overdosed on OTC cough medicine because they heard that, in spite of its side effects, taking a lot of cough medicine could, “make you feel really good.” After all, people of all ages think, “If these medicines are either prescribed by a medical professional or can be purchased easily at a pharmacy, how could they hurt you?” Such a question is particularly problematic with tweens, teens and young adults who are at the stage of life when they feel that problems happen to other people, not to them, and that they are invincible because they are young.
That is when I think back to the report I heard this morning on the radio. We need to empathize with the young people in our lives. In order for prevention messages to reach them, we need to go where they are. We need to ensure that they are well-informed about the potential repercussions of medicine misuse and abuse, not to scare them, but to give them the tools they need to stay safe and healthy.
You can become part of the movement to help our youth grow into healthy and informed adults by getting involved in CADCA’s National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month. Check out our online toolkit PreventRxAbuse.org and get involved. You can:
- Participate in the Dose of Prevention Challenge: Each year, CADCA awards community coalitions for their outstanding efforts in combating prescription and OTC medicine abuse. Contact your local community coalition if you have not done so already. Be part of their activities as they host educational events – town hall meetings, community breakfasts, and seminars – where they place the spotlight on the issues and talk about solutions.
At the end of the day, what’s important is that our next generation enters adulthood ready for the challenges which await them. Preventing prescription, OTC and other forms of drug misuse and abuse provides pathways to success for tweens, teens and young people of today. Our efforts today teach the adults of tomorrow about the importance of paying it forward. And as Murray the Muppet concluded in this morning’s radio story when he excitedly figured out the meaning of empathy, doing so provides opportunities for all of us to do the “Happy Dance” that changes communities. A simple message – yes – but one that requires a commitment from parents, schools, businesses, healthcare providers, government agencies, faith organizations and other community sectors. Be concerned. Get engaged, and take action. Become part of the solution. Revisit the meaning of empathy and make your community stronger for this generation and beyond.