By Eden Laikin
Nassau Community College students who took part in the school’s annual Drug Awareness Day yesterday, provided the audience for the debut of a new drug abuse prevention and education tool presented by the County’s mental health and chemical dependency professionals.
The presentation by Police Detective Pam Stark and Social Worker David Hymowitz spurred a topical and relevant discussion among the more than 75 young people that gathered, about the dangers of abusing drugs and the feelings that could trigger substance abuse.
This is just the latest initiative by Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano’s office to try and stem the tide of Heroin and prescription drug abusers, as the Opioids claim the lives of 119 Nassau residents last year.
Mental Health experts have found that addictive behaviors often coincide with mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety and that both disorders need to be treated simultaneously for more successful outcomes. Studies show that the stigma of admitting such feelings can cause the person to self-medicate with drugs rather than seek help.
Hymowitz, who specializes in addictive behaviors, began by revealing a surprising statistic: 1 in 4 or 5 people in this nation suffer from some form of diagnosable mental illness – that’s 20% of the population. Many, however, are not even aware of it.
Depression, probably the most common disorder, causes some to turn to alcohol, marijuana or foods high in sugar or Carbs as a way of “self-medicating” feelings, he told the students – to try and feel better. But, as each of those substances ultimately acts as a depressant, it only magnifies the negative feelings.
“You might actually be making it worse,” he said.
He added that anxiety affects about 10% of the nation, at any given time. But that smoking Marijuana as a way to relax, actually makes those symptoms worse by raising anxiety and often causing paranoia.
“The first step is recognizing these feelings in yourself, and, seeking help… or healthy solutions,” Hymowitz told the students, leaving them with contact numbers for several resources.
Det. Stark, the community liason to the PD’s Narcotics division, offered the students real-life examples, from a criminal justice perspective of what can happen even when one thinks they’re innocently “experimenting” with an illegal drug or one not prescribed to them, or begins to misuse even those drugs legitimately prescribed for health reasons.
National studies show that at least 20% of middle and high school students have taken prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription; About 4.5 million American kids, aged 12 and older, reported abusing prescription drugs; while 1 in 3 teens report having a close friend who abuses RX pain relievers to get high.
This new initiative is part of a broader Behavioral Health Awareness Campaign, recently launched by the Nassau County Office of Mental Health, Chemical Dependency and Developmental Disabilities Services. The campaign strives to educate people about the relationship between mental health and substance abuse, and to promote integrated, comprehensive treatment of the whole person.
County Executive Ed Mangano urged middle school officials to allow these age-appropriate presentations for their students – possibly as part of an event dedicated to easing their transition to high school.
“The alarming number of drug overdose deaths in our communities over the last 2 years highlights the critical need for a new approach to drug abuse prevention, education and awareness in our schools – both for students, and parents,” Mangano said. “We know that one of the keys to avoiding substance abuse is by learning to live an emotionally healthy life.”
For the parents, we’ll help them recognize the difference between “normal teenage behavior” and what could possibly be signs of a more serious issue, he said.
“I urge all middle school principals and school superintendents to book one of Nassau’s new presentations, and allow our professionals to work together with, and enhance, existing district anti-drug abuse programs in order to strengthen the message about the deadly dangers that are targeting our young people,” Mangano said.
For more information, or to schedule a presentation, call Eden Laikin at 516-571-6105 or email firstname.lastname@example.org