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Substance Abuse team in national spotlight

The Surry County Office of Substance Abuse Recovery was in the Partner Spotlight of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration last month for being “prevention rock stars in their community.”

To be honored in the spotlight is no small feat, Charlotte Reeves, community outreach coordinator for the county, said. “I think this is an important milestone, because they are recognizing that work has begun in our county. I am extremely proud of this award because it takes a lot of work and coordination to get to this point.”

Established by Congress in 1992, the administrative was created to provide leadership, support programs, and devote resources to help guide national policy towards action based on the knowledge that “behavioral health is essential to health, prevention works, treatment is effective, and people recover.”

When citing the good work of the Surry County team, the agency pointed to the goal of creating a continuum of care that “eliminates impediments for those seeking treatment and recovery.” Programs such as Ride the Road to Recovery are among the most visible of those services. It offers transportation to the doctor, to treatment, or to court so not having a ride need not be a roadblock to recovery — it can be removed as an impediment.

The Surry County Office of Substance Abuse Recovery was credited for its recent implementation of the “Talk, They Hear You” campaign messaging via postings on social media, podcasts, and in outreach columns in the newspaper. Also, for hosting trainings throughout the community, including a first staff training at Pilot Mountain Middle school, and Surry Central High School’s Addiction Awareness Week.

The “Talk, They Hear You” campaign aims to reduce underage drinking and other substance use among youths by providing care givers with information and resources they need to address these issues with children early and often.

Parents have a significant influence in their children’s decision to experiment with alcohol and drugs. The program materials tell parents, “Although it may not seem like it, when parents talk about underage drinking and substance use, their children do hear them.”

“Talk, They Hear You” was originally focused on helping parents with children ages 9–15 to prevent young people from starting to drink. However, research suggests the chances that children will try alcohol or other drugs increases as they get older.

“Around age 9, children begin thinking alcohol may not be just for adults. By the time they are seniors, almost 70% of high school students will have tried alcohol, half will have taken an illegal drug, and more than 20% will have used a prescription drug for a nonmedical purpose,” according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“Research shows that if we can prevent or delay the onset of alcohol or substance use until after the age of 25, adult substance use disorder is significantly reduced,” Reeves said. “In other words, 90% of people with adult substance use disorder started alcohol or substance use as an adolescent.” The program has since expanded its resources to include tools to help them continue having underage drinking and substance use prevention conversations beyond age 15.

“Talk, They Hear You” aims to increase parental awareness of the prevalence as well as the risk of underage drinking or substance use. By equipping parents with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to prevent such behaviors, they also hope to increase parents’ actions to intervene in underage drinking and substance use.

“Parents’ Night Out” educational sessions were added to inform parents and caregivers about the realities of underage drinking and drug use. The goal is to prepare parents and loved ones to talk with kids about these issues that are often difficult to bring up organically.

Reeves led the first of these Night Out events at Pilot Middle School in May. She met with parents to discuss why their child may start to abuse, such as stress from grades, fitting in, or appearances and their desire to escape these through use of substances.

In the age range 11 – 18 kids are susceptible to peer pressure and with the addition of social media and “influencers” there are more avenues for these types of pressure to reach kids. Part of her Night Out messaging had to do with parents showing an interest in what their kids are doing and clearly expressing their disapproval of underage drinking or drug use to counteract those influences.

Parents were encouraged to have regular talks about drugs and alcohol, rather have than have “the talk.” Too much can be missed or glossed over if parents try to cram it all into one made for television heart-to-heart talk.

During these more regular talks parents are encouraged to not employ scare tactics, Reeves said the science can be scary enough. “Rather than scaring your children, tell them that alcohol and other drugs are bad for their growing brain and can make them sick,” she said. Leaning into facts and science can also show kids that parents can be a trusted source on these issues.

She reminded the attendees that transitions from middle to high school and then to college can be tricky for children of any age. Adding in the pandemic presented new challenges as well and Reeves asked the parents if they had noticed any changes during the past two years.

Parents have tools at their disposal to help have these talks with their children such as the “Talk, They Hear You” mobile app that provides practice scenarios. It can be used a resource to prepare and provides conversation “starters,” goals, possible reactions, “closers,” and other helpful information like statistics on the prevalence of underage drinking and other drug use.

To spread the message to a wider audience the All-Stars Prevention Group held a community event at Veteran’s Park called Vincent’s Legacy: Kindness Day. Reeves said, “We go to these community events mostly for youth and offer kid friendly activities, like face painting, to start a conversation with their parents. We share information with them about our office, The All-Stars Prevention Group, and ‘Talk, They Hear You.’

“We discuss the importance of starting the conversation with your youth early and having the conversation often,” she explained. “We also encourage and discuss the importance of parental involvement in an adolescent’s life.”

“Anywhere we can get to parents is where we will be. It all starts with the parents. The biggest protective factor for a young person is a loving and caring relationship with at least one parent or caregiver.”

The All-Stars Prevention Group are volunteers that aid with community events. They are parents, people in recovery, and just folks in our community that want to help. “We could not do it without them,” Reeves said.



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