Rise Together Empowering Youth: “Just say no” didn’t work

Trump Declares Opioid Addiction Crisis a ‘Public Health Emergency’

Yesterday, President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency and said the U.S. must confront “the worst drug crisis in American history.” 

It can not be ignored that the Presidents declaration is a sign of progress and we can all applaud the recovery movement as a whole for helping to make this happen.

Unfortunately, yesterdays declaration did not come with a promise of emergency federal funding or a concrete strategic plan that would be used to help go up against the nations addiction pandemic.

There is a great need for innovative resources that will support individuals in recovery long-term, be there for families that have been impacted, and in turn help to save lives.

It was once said that “We cannot arrest our way out of this problem, we cannot treat our way out, but we can prevent this from getting worse.”

Others are saying that BOLD changes need to take place immediately.

“We need innovative policy initiatives, mass mobilization of local communities, an expansion of harm reduction initiatives, an expansion and more effective utilization of indigenous recovery support institutions, and a radical redesign of addiction treatment that provides long-term support for personal and family recovery.  Our country weeps as we wait for bold leadership.” -William L. White Author, Slaying the Dragon:  The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America

“Just Say No” Doesn’t Work

“This was an idea that I had, where if we can teach young people not to take drugs,” Trump stated, “it’s really, really easy not to take them.”

Unfortunately Trumps BIG idea falls drastically short of how we can truly educate our youth.

He also stated that the government would produce “really tough, really big, really great advertising” in hopes to persuade people not to take drugs in the first place; both sounding very similar to the ineffective “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign which was led by Nancy Reagan during the 80’s.

The problem is “just saying no” to drugs doesn’t work. For example, it doesn’t take into account how difficult it is to say no, the social pressures young people face today, the social norms, accessibility, social acceptance, or even the misconceptions around “getting high”.

As a country, we all can do a better job of teaching young people the important life skills that will help them make healthier decisions in their lives. Instead of teaching them to “just say no” we can start by teaching them how to “ask for help” and how to support others that may be struggling.

We can also encourage young people everywhere to continue to speak out and break the silence around suicide, bullying, self-harm, drugs, and alcohol; eliminating the public shame and stigma around mental illness & addiction.

What Youth Are Telling Us

Since 2014, Rise Together has surveyed nearly 7,000 students across 47 counties in Wisconsin, where they have found an overwhelming amount of young people that are affected by significant trauma, large amounts of stresssubstance use disorders, self-harmsuicidal tendencies, and other mental & behavioral health conditions.

After being in front of 130,000 people, we have watched at least 85,000 students stand up & speak out about losing a loved one to the disease of addiction. We have heard thousand’s of stories from young people who have lost best friends, uncles, grandparents, aunts, both parents, and even all their siblings due to drugs and alcohol.

It is crucial that our communities help to increase access to school-based prevention and education programs to address substance use and mental health for young people everywhere. 

Key Findings

  • 1 of 2 of students who’ve tried risky substances continue using, putting them at risk of developing a substance use disorder
  • Students state that an increase in school prevention, intervention and education strategies as critical to combating the drug epidemic.
  • Most students use for the first time out of curiosity or because their friends use.
  • Students cite high stress and challenges with self-esteem as major detriments to health and well-being, making substance use and abuse is a multi-faceted issue.
  • Despite the health risk, many students don’t see use of risky substances as a significant problem.
Full Survey Results
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