Unique approaches to prevention

By EMILY SPARACINO / Staff Writer

No parents want to hear their teenager is struggling with substance abuse.

They don’t want to accept that their student with so much potential and a world of opportunities ahead has fallen into a dark addiction with drugs or alcohol.

How did it happen? What were the warning signs? Could it have been prevented?

The last question in particular lives at the heart of Red Ribbon Week, a decades-old drug awareness and prevention campaign created by the National Family Partnership to “lead and support our nation’s families and communities in nurturing the full potential of healthy, drug-free youth,” according to Redribbon.org.

Local students participated in Red Ribbon Week activities from Oct. 23-31. Elementary students donned costumes on themed dress-up days, and in Montevallo, middle and high school students engaged in a friendly physical fitness competition with Montevallo Police Chief Jeremy Littleton and his officers.

In the first-ever Chief’s Challenge, students raced against police officers to complete the physical standards required to pass the Police Academy.

The competition was designed to showcase the physical and mental benefits of avoiding alcohol and drugs.

“The Chief’s Challenge idea seemed ideal for our students who enjoyed athletic or physical activities, spurred by the Montevallo police chief’s favorite hobby – running,” Impact Montevallo Program Director Sarah Hogan told us. “The event gave officers an opportunity to showcase their standards and have fun by racing teens in meeting these APOST certified standards.”

Littleton praised the event’s success, noting it extended beyond its primary purpose of promoting a healthy, drug-free lifestyle among teens and gave officers a chance to interact with students in a new format.

“I enjoyed being able to run next to and encourage participants to keep going,” Littleton said.

So, what does wearing a costume to school or participating in a fitness competition accomplish in the battle against youth substance abuse?

While such activities might seem trivial, they draw attention to the campaign and could have a lasting impact on children and teens as they get older.

What if the memory of running alongside the police chief serves as a reminder of how much he and other community leaders care about students staying away from drugs? In a moment of decision, what if it’s one of the reasons a teen says no to taking a pill or trying a drink?

During a Shelby County Chamber luncheon in February, Shelby County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Clay Hammac said 90 percent of those struggling with substance abuse started using when they were teenagers.

Hammac serves as director of Compact 2020, which gathers information about drug use among young people and then seeks to intervene by meeting with families and forming action plans to get the students back on track.

“We want moms and dads to know what we know from our investigative efforts,” Hammac said.

Every effort to instill in children and teens a sense of discernment regarding drugs and alcohol is worth our time. Thank you to our law enforcement officers, community organizations, school leaders and parents for taking active roles in this ongoing campaign for the good of our young people.