Coalition for Youth prepares to battle substance abuse

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Like most communities across the country, Tecumseh is facing a potential epidemic involving its young people. Drug and alcohol use have been a concern for decades, but the drugs many young people are experimenting with today are harder, more addictive and not thought to be a problem by some parents and community members. The growing use of opiates – prescription drugs as well as heroin – and the formerly legal synthetic marijuana are becoming more prevalent. The severity of these drugs is a concern to Tecumseh community leaders who have come together as the Tecumseh Coalition for Youth to find a way to help raise awareness and give assistance to families in the community.

A report from the Michigan Department of Community Health identifies admissions for Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs (ATOD) treatment in Lenawee County during 2011. Over half the admissions were for alcohol with heroin/opiates making up 32.6 percent. The numbers for opiate treatment are increasing rapidly. A study done by the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services released a report this spring that said heroin abuse is at epidemic levels.

Addiction to heroin is becoming a problem not in the inner cities, according to reports in a June NBC news series, it’s happening in affluent suburban communities across the United States. Abuse of opiate painkillers like Oxycontin and Vicodin starts the addiction process for most heroin addicts. The switch to heroin is made because the street drug offers the same results as prescription opiates at a cheaper cost to the addict.

Roland von Kaler, of Tecumseh, knows first hand the dangers abuse of prescription medication and heroin. His granddaughter Raven, 20, died of a heroin overdose in 2011, and her descent into addiction began with abuse of prescription pain medication when she was a student.

To help battle addiction in Tecumseh, von Kaler, came up with the idea of manufacturing a box that will lock up prescription medication, making parents and family members aware when someone is taking or trying to take the medication. Working with the Tecumseh Rotary, von Kaler designed the lock box and has been trying to raise money for mass production. His hope is to get enough funding for a box to be in every Tecumseh house with children.

At the end of June, von Kaler delivered 30 lock boxes to Pamida pharmacy in Tecumseh. The boxes were distributed by the Pamida pharmacists to different customers with instructions on how to use the box. Also included was an information sheet explaining many children and young adults develop drug addictions from abusing the prescription medication of their parents and grandparents. Customers receiving the box will be asked to answer questions about using the box when they refill their medication.

Educating the public about drug abuse is the first line of defense, von Kaler believes. His family was in the dark about Raven’s addiction for a long time because she seemed to behave normally and had friends at Clinton High School who did not fit the typical profile of abusers or pushers.

“The problem is deep in the family,” von Kaler said. “There’s a breakdown in the family structure.” One way to strengthen families is through education and interaction, which he hopes will open the eyes of parents and grandparents about what their children and grandchildren are capable of doing.

Because his family has been public about their loss and Raven’s addiction, von Kaler said people come up to him to talk about the problems their loved ones have with addiction and getting clean. Their family doctor told von Kaler many young people came to get help for heroin addiction after Raven’s death. Her problem was also their problem, and her death made other young people realize the true seriousness of heroin addiction.

For a long time, von Kaler believed the only way to battle drug addiction in the community was to impose very stiff sentences on drug dealers. After reading a series of columns by Washington Post columnist George Will, he now believes decriminalization may be more effective at solving the problem, although acknowledges there are no simple solutions or answers.

Tecumseh Coalition for Youth had its first meeting on June 5. Formed as a way to address the growing issue of drug abuse in the city, the group has members from all areas of the community, including: Mayor Dick Johnson, City Manager Kevin Welch, Superintendent Michael McAran, Police Chief Troy Stern, Pastor Tom Hawkins, Tecumseh Herald publisher Jim Lincoln, Kiwanis Youth Services Coordinator Janis Montalvo, Tecumseh High School student Hannah Galloway, Rotary member Roland von Kaler, School Board member Kim Amstutz-Wild, business owner Harvey Schmidt, Development Coordinator for Monroe County Substance Abuse Coalition April Demers, Vice President of ProMedica Herrick Hospital Matt Hammond, and Dave Hickman of the Tecumseh Community Foundation.

During the meeting, Tecumseh Coalition for Youth reviewed reports for Tecumseh and the State of Michigan covering statistics about alcohol, tobacco and other drug use. The numbers showed an increase in the number of students using alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. The percentage of Tecumseh students using alcohol in seventh grade was 10.8 percent, which jumped to 38.7 percent in ninth grade, and 58.8 percent in 11th grade. Marijuana had the next highest percentage increase with 5 percent of seventh graders using the drug, jumping to 20.1 percent in ninth grade and 38.7 percent in 11th grade. Five percent of Tecumseh students reported smoking cigarettes in seventh grade, 14.9 percent in ninth grade and 25 percent in 11th grade.

The goal for Tecumseh Coalition for Youth is to “work to develop and implement strategies to prevent and reduce substance abuse among youth in the community served by the Tecumseh Public Schools.” By working with the Lenawee County Substance Abuse Coalition, Tecumseh School Health classes, youth groups and faith-based groups, Tecumseh Coalition for Youth will educate families about how to battle abuse of drugs and alcohol.




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