The White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy estimates the economic cost of drug abuse in the United States at $181 billion per year. Illicit drug use and the misuse of prescription medications are widespread problems in the United States and here in Union County.  Approximately 23 million Americans aged 12 or older or roughly 9 percent of the population is a current illicit drug user.  Among people who are illicit drug users, 81 percent of them use marijuana; the most commonly used illicit drug.  Approximately 6 million Americans reported that they currently use prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes.  Although an estimated 1 in 10 youth aged 12 to 17 is a current illicit drug user, most young people refrain from using illicit drugs.  Drug use among people of all ages is dangerous because it can lead to addiction, reduced self-control and impaired decision-making.   In addition to other serious physical consequences, some drugs can alter the brain in ways that persist after the person has stopped taking drugs and may even be permanent.  

As part of Prevention Week in Union County 2013, the Health and Wellness Coalition of Union County (HAWC) asks parents to get involved in your child’s day-to-day activities and discuss the risks of using illicit and prescription drugs. By being involved early and consistently, you can help prevent problems before they occur.  Parents should also securely store prescription drugs and dispose of unused supplies. Everyone knows someone who may have a problem with drugs or alcohol.  Know the signs.  Many signs may indicate that someone is abusing prescription drugs or using illicit drugs. Signs to look for include: missing prescription drugs (especially narcotics and mood stabilizers);  evidence of drug paraphernalia or inhalant products; changes in friends; the use of secretive language; increased secrecy about possessions or activities; negative changes in school or job performance; increased use of sprays, perfumes, or mouthwash to mask smoke or chemical odors; and an increase in borrowing money.

Preventing substance abuse and promoting mental, emotional, and behavioral well-being makes communities stronger and healthier. It’s something all of us benefit from and something we can all contribute to. We are the ones who can make a difference in Union County through small, yet important actions in our daily lives.  Take action, talk to your kids about the dangers of illicit drug use and help someone who may have a problem.

Funded by a grant from the New Jersey Department of Human Services, Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS), Prevention Links will coordinate over the next four years The Health and Wellness Coalition of Union County (HAWC).  The HAWC is a regional coalition serving Union County whose mission is to assess the needs of Union County in order to enhance collaboration and coordinate prevention efforts that foster a drug free lifestyle and create healthy communities.  The HAWC’s vision is by 2017, the Health and Wellness Coalition of Union County will create prevention prepared communities through a collaborative effort to reduce underage drinking, marijuana use, the use of opioids, prescription drugs and new and emerging drugs across the lifespan throughout Union County.   To become a member of the HAWC, please contact Michael Capko at 732-381-4100 or mcapko@preventionlinks.org.