In the last few weeks I have become an unanticipated expert on drug use among young people in my region of Massachusetts. I attended a drug forum at the local high school and heard from a long list of experts and parents on how drug use has escalated not only in numbers of addicts, but also  in the potency of the drugs being comsumed. Marijuana and alcohol seem to get the most attention and cause anxious parents nightmares, but heroin, Oxycontin and inhalants are the real dangers.

The tragedy of drug use by the young was brought home at the forum by a grandfather who watched his handsome, athletic grandson turn into a addict who would do anything to pay for his habit. Then there was the mother who watched her son slide back into drug use after rehab, only to overdose and die in his early twenties. The assistant principal of the high school told the audience that she had attended five funerals in the last few years of graduates who had died from their addiction.

Then a few days ago there was a rash of break-ins my town- a good friend had her home invaded and ransacked.  The police seem convinced that the robberies are being committed by someone likely looking for cash or goods to feed their habit. Drug habits are the cause of most of the petty crime in cities and towns, and the criminals are getting younger and younger.

What is astounding to me is the ease with which drugs of all kinds are readily available  and the high level of denial about drug use in most communities. Heroin, the most addictive drug, is just plain cheap; Oxycontin and other similar painkillers can be swiped out of a parent’s medicine cabinet and those spray cans that are used to clean the keys on a computer are now the inhalant of choice.

As with most of these forums on drugs or alcohol, the turnout was poor, although those in attendance seemed committed to get the community out of their complacency and take action. It will likely take more deaths to get the attention of those in denial.

The real sadness of drug use today by young people is that there is such a variety of addictive and deadly narcotics and so little understanding by users of the risks that they are taking. This is where parents, teachers and community leaders come in. We live at a time when death by overdose is mounting – in Massachusetts more people die from  overdoses then from car accidents. Drug use must be faced head on and all of us must make a special effort to protect our young people from those funerals.

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