Skip to main content

Prevention Talk: Addiction crisis; prevention is of paramount importance

May 13, 2019 11:38 am Updated: May 13, 2019 11:44 am


Earlier this month I attended the ASAP Statewide Prevention Conference in Albany. It was a profound experience that challenged my ideas on prevention and propelled me forward into new realities about substance abuse. A coterie of top professionals addressed the attendees on a wide range of issues relevant to substance use. After two days of total immersion I emerged reeducated and reenergized. So, let me share this newfound knowledge.

I will begin by saying that my firm belief that prevention is of paramount importance in the struggle we are waging with substance abuse was substantiated by not one but by every speaker. That certainty was further supported as each expert extoled the virtues of and the desperate need for strong prevention programs in every community across the nation. Their message that Prevention must play as pivotal a role as treatment and recovery if we are to succeed in our struggle with drugs came across loud and clear. Relegating it to a secondary position endangers those not yet afflicted by the brain disease we call substance use disorder. To quote Dr. Kevin Sabet, author of Reefer Sanity: Seven Great Myths About Marijuana, “We are not facing an ‘Opioid Crisis’ we are facing an ‘Addiction Crisis.”

We need to focus on all drug use and we must be aware that drugs, like fashion, have cyclical trends. Recent studies identify fentanyl, heroin, prescription drugs, cocaine, and methamphetamine as having the highest rates of overdose deaths. Methamphetamine is experiencing a resurgence in use. Synthetic drugs, newer on the market, are hitting us hard in every sector of our communities according to Jermaine Galloway, AKA Tall Cop ( These synthetic drugs can be purchased online directly from China or from any number of other dealers and are often labeled as research chemicals and shipped in non-descript packaging. Galloway further states that “the packaging, transportation, storage and use of synthetics are a potential public safety hazard to anyone who comes in contact with these drugs.” This puts first responders at risk of accidental overdose. Since this is now a much broader category than just police, fire, and emergency personnel, that means the teacher, nurse, or good Samaritan on the street willing to help risks personal harm. Lynn Riemer, Founder and President of ACT on Drugs believes that the misuse of illicit drugs places every person in the public sector at risk. She reports that since marijuana was legalized in Colorado marijuana related traffic deaths increased 151 percent while all Colorado traffic deaths increased 35 percent.

The drug culture has found its way into every aspect of our lives. References to marijuana and other drugs can be found on T-shirts, hats, in shopping mall store windows, and of course language. It’s open and out there, especially in states where recreational marijuana is legal. Acceptance of marijuana as harmless is a grave error. It’s not the same stuff of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Genetic engineering has increased the level of THC, tetrahydrocannabinol, the addictive substance, from the naturally 3-4 percent to as much as 30 percent. Marijuana concentrates contain even higher levels of THC that could range from 40-80 percent. New and creative methods of extracting this richer THC provides the user with a powerful high. When laced with heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, meth, and any variety of synthetic drugs, the combination can become deadly making accurate identification of substances difficult seriously complicating medical intervention. NPR recently reported that a dramatic increase in psychosis seems to be linked to regular marijuana use.

Knowledge is the best defense, learn all you can. Go to The Science of Marijuana: How THC Affects the Brain/

Reach Helen Exum at