*The following is the op-ed Editorial that was published in Monday’s edition 8/31/15 of the Montana Standard Newspaper. It was written by Pat Prendergast, the President of Butte Cares, Inc.* We would love to hear your comments about this piece. We would also ask you to share it with your family and friends as our young people go back to school. It is that important:
The most critical issue facing our society today regarding the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs is each individual’s personal belief system and their behavior.
In our society today, our attitudes seem to be that each person should be left to their own devices when it comes to drug and alcohol use. Media, social marketing, and social norms are desensitizing folks to the dangers of alcohol and drug use. Young people are constantly encouraged to engage in activities that are risky but are presented as “normal”… you’ve got to go to a party with drugs or alcohol in your system in order to have fun!
We know that each individual’s values and beliefs are strongly influenced by the environment in which each person is raised. Our kids are now going back to school. And, whether it is elementary, middle, high school, or even college, they are inundated with computer and television images 24/7. Those images include a society that insists on perpetuating images that in order to become a more socially interesting, attractive, sexy, or “fun” individual… you MUST use some sort of mind altering substance.
Science confirms that the adolescent brain is not fully developed until the early to mid-20s. As a result, if kids use alcohol before age 21, it can hamper brain development and function. And, more evidence is pouring in that youth who begin drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence as an adult than those who wait until they are 21.
Butte Cares believes the only way to protect young people and be proactive against the problems of drug and alcohol misuse and abuse is to change the social norms that exist here in our community and across this country. This is not an easy task where individual freedoms are highly valued in a democratic society. But, we are paying a high price and are struggling daily with the issues and demons of abuse when the attitude continues to be, “it’s all about me!”
What then should be the bottom line? Our kids should see their parents and guardians as role models. Do they? Or, are we just too darn busy? We need to develop the cultural norm that “drinking responsibly” is interesting, attractive sexy, and fun. We also need to address the sweeping use of illegal drugs while educating our kids about the dangers involved. This includes the shocking rise of prescription drug abuse and the hazards of marijuana use in our local area.
Now, this may sound a bit utopian and unrealistic, but we are running out of time. If we don’t make an impact here and now, we will continue to fight an uphill and very expensive battle. We have been waging this war for decades. So, as our children head back to school, don’t you think they are worth it?
Pat Prendergast, President, Butte Cares, Inc.