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Campaigns against drug use

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pennsylvania was the state with the third most drug overdose deaths in 2017. With drug use and abuse being such a problem in the state of Pennsylvania, schools are rightfully introducing education on the effects of drug use and abuse. Although education and prevention efforts in schools are incredibly important, I argue that campaigns against drug use can be oversimplified and are not necessarily addressing the core reasons for substance abuse.

From my experiences as a psychology student and my work in residential mental health services in the state of New York, I find that campaigns discouraging drug use and abuse are not targeting the underlying reasons for these problems. When I was in high school and a member of the Lycoming County Youth Development Task Force, “Find Your Anti-Drug” was the central message of the organization’s campaign against drug use and abuse. The campaign was designed to deter students from engaging in high-risk behaviors through the participation of athletics, academics, and student organizations. I see now that the campaign at the time was not targeting one of the most fundamental reasons for drug abuse, psychological pain.

From reading “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” by Gabor Mat, I know that people use drugs to excess to avoid psychological pain. Drugs mask the pain associated with mental health disorders, trauma, and feelings of loneliness. Playing a sport or being involved in student organizations will likely be insufficient in deterring an adolescent who has experienced trauma or deals with symptoms of mental health disorders from engaging in substance use.

The biopsychosocial model of substance abuse helps to understand the impact psychological pain has on the etiology of addiction. The biopsychosocial model of substance abuse says that biological, psychological, and social factors interact to bring about an addiction. The biological, psychological, and social factors found in the biopsychosocial model do not independently result in substance abuse. A genetic predisposition to addiction and access to drugs does not mean that someone will develop a substance use issue, although adding in a mental health disorder or the psychological effects of a traumatic experience will increase the likelihood of developing a substance use disorder.

The Youth Development Task Force changed the focus of their campaign from “Find Your Anti-Drug” to “Find Your Worth” in 2018. The “Find Your Worth” campaign appears to be centered more on suicide prevention and mental health. Even after changing the focus of the campaigns developed by the Lycoming County Youth Development Task Force, clearly this alone will not be enough to decrease the incidence of adolescent drug use and abuse in North Central Pennsylvania. It is crucial for educators, parents, and those who spend time around children and adolescents to be attune to the emotional needs of students. There also must be an effort to increase access to mental health care by increasing the presence of school psychologists, guidance counselors, and social workers in schools.

Leland Barclay

Williamsport

Submitted via Virtual Newsroom

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