• Youth Drug Use: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

    Ed. Note: This post originally appeared on HuffingtonPost.com

    Recently, I joined officials from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Department of Health and Human Services to announce the results of the largest annual survey on youth drug use in America. NIDA's annual "Monitoring the Future" study, which questions more than 46,000 teens in over 400 public and private schools across America, is a vital source of information about the types of substances young people are using, as well as their attitudes and perceptions regarding substance use -- including alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

    This year's data revealed some troubling new trends, including startling new information showing an emerging threat of so-called "synthetic drugs," which have been marketed as "legal" alternatives to marijuana. According to the survey, one in nine high school seniors has used synthetic marijuana marketed as "K2" and "spice" in the past year. That means the use of these drugs now rank as the second most frequently used illegal drug among high school seniors, second only to marijuana.

    To address this emerging challenge, the Drug Enforcement Administration recently used their emergency regulatory authority to temporarily ban the sale of the chemicals used to manufacture K2 and spice. I have also convened officials from across the federal government at the White House to share data and coordinate a federal response to the threat of synthetic drugs. We are also working with Congress; and just two weeks ago the House of Representatives passed legislation that would permanently ban the chemicals used to make synthetic drugs, including those marketed as "bath salts."

    New data also shows that youth marijuana use is on the rise. In fact, more high school 10th graders smoke marijuana than smoke cigarettes. Making matters worse, young people's perception of harm regarding marijuana use is declining. Unfortunately, the barrage of mixed media messages and legalization campaigns that seek to normalize drug use shape young people's attitudes toward drug use. Let's keep this in mind: Using illegal drugs is not part of everyday life in America, nor is it a rite of passage. Given the wide array of public health research outlining the serious consequences of using marijuana, we must work to ensure teens understand that marijuana use can harm a young person's health and his or her future.

    Despite these challenges, this year's survey also contains some very promising trends. Rates of drug use among young people are far lower than they were 30 years ago. And while still far too high (alcohol is still the most widely abused drug among teens), rates of teen cigarette smoking and drinking are at the lowest levels ever measured. Moreover, far more teens disapprove of smoking today than they did 20 years ago.

    This progress didn't happen overnight or by accident. Over the past several decades, a concerted effort by parents, the private sector, and public health and safety institutions was mounted to keep young people healthy and protected from harmful substances through a balanced combination of education, treatment and enforcement. Nationwide media campaigns have encouraged young people to make healthy choices by rejecting drug use. Local community coalitions have formed across the nation to address local threats with local solutions. Law enforcement agencies have targeted the supply of substances, making them expensive and less available to teens. Not only have these efforts substantially reduced the number of young people hurt by drugs, but they have also changed the culture surrounding these substances. This is important because when society disapproves of drug use, and its harms are accurately and frequently communicated to young people, fewer will begin using drugs. For example, the rate of smoking goes down when the acceptability of smoking goes down. The percentage of students reporting daily cigarette use is significantly lower, along with the percentage of students who think smoking is acceptable.

    Preventing drug use before it ever begins is, after all, the most cost-effective way to address our drug problem. Successful prevention means fewer people will develop substance use disorders, and the consequences of substance use -- including health care, treatment costs and criminal justice system costs -- will all decrease.

    The Obama administration has taken a comprehensive approach to the substance abuse problem, and science directs that effort. Research shows time and again that adult influencers are the most powerful force in the lives of young people. We will continue working with local communities to decrease substance use rates across the nation. In the meantime, we hope you will join us in making America healthier and safer.

    For more information or help on how to talk to teens about drugs, visit TheAntiDrug.com.

    R. Gil Kerlikowske is Director of National Drug Control Policy

  • Federal Funding Ban on Needle Exchange Programs

    Ed. Note: This post was updated at 6:10 pm

    On December 16, 2009, President Obama signed into law an end to the longstanding ban on most Federal funding for needle exchange programs, giving us more opportunities to stop the spread of HIV and other infections among injecting drug users (IDUs). The Administration continues to support a consistent policy that would allow Federal funds to be used in locations where local authorities deem needle exchange programs to be effective and appropriate. Unfortunately, Congress has reinstated the ban.

    As noted in the President’s National Drug Control Strategy, we will continue to work with Congress and public health agencies to ensure that, to the extent possible, needle exchange programs are implemented in the context of comprehensive, recovery-oriented public health systems that also offer IDUs treatment for addiction, other medical care, and testing for HIV and hepatitis B and C.  On a global scale, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) continues to work with governments worldwide on synchronizing drug control and HIV prevention and treatment.  In combating the problem, special attention has been paid to comprehensive HIV prevention services for IDUs that include providing HIV prevention education. The recommended core package of comprehensive HIV prevention services for IDUs includes needle and syringe programs; drug treatment (including medication-assisted treatment for opioid dependence); HIV testing and counseling; antiretroviral therapy for HIV-positive IDUs; prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections; condom programs for IDUs and their sexual partners; targeted information, education, and communication for IDUs and their sexual partners; vaccination, diagnosis, and treatment of viral hepatitis; and diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis.

  • I Was Determined to Save My Life

    Cross-posted from Faces and Voices of Recovery

    I am a 35 year old survivor who has been clean and sober for almost seven years.  My drug of choice was Methamphetamine. I would stop at nothing to get my next hit.  I was very ill, both mentally and physically from not eating or caring for myself. I lost everything including my son and my freedom in a matter of 4 years.  In 2001 I was arrested and charged with many crimes, all due to my addiction. 

    In 2002 I was given the gift of being able to enter into a long term drug treatment facility.  I was determined to save my life.  I had to be taught how to be productive, goal orientated, have a positive self-esteem and how to fight for my life. They taught me how to be proud of my accomplishments and who I am.  In 2004 I graduated the program.   

    Sobriety has brought so much back to me, including my son as of 2 months ago. I have found a new love for life and others.  I now work as a counselor helping individuals to overcome and cope with their disease.  I enjoy helping others to help themselves.  I assist in guiding those who are in the same position I was over seven years ago.  

    Sobriety and life is worth fighting for.  We just have to be shown the way.

    This post is part of the ONDCP Stories of Hope blog series.

  • Our Children Are Not Just Our Present, They Are Our Future

    Cross-posted from Faces and Voices of Recovery

    I am a parent of a graduate of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment Program. I don’t think there is a bumper sticker for that. Every Tuesday my husband and I meet with other parents dealing with the issues around drug addiction in the family. We were the first parents when the group began. After three or four weeks another couple came, followed by a single mother. And so it grew, single parents, married couples, divorced couples working to save their children even when their own marriages had failed. There are half couples too, the other parent either working, doing supervision at home or in denial, a common thing with parents of a drug using child. For who among us, in even the most exasperating moments of parenthood ever pictured our loving, cherubic faced child fighting the devil of addiction. Not I, not my husband and none of the other parents who show up each week. They aren’t there for the pizza.

    Although our son has been clean for over three years we have continued to attend. Drug addiction is never cured. It is faced every day, one day at a time. We need to remember that for our son. We have also realized that others are not yet able to see that recovery is possible. Almost every week we have a new parent hemorrhaging from the devastation of this disease. We feel such a responsibility to be there for them, to help in any way to give hope and courage to continue their fight to help their child get clean. To keep the faith that recovery is indeed possible and even likely given strong, loving, consistent support amidst the inevitable, tough, painful decisions that will have to be made.

    Having the privilege of witnessing active recovery, we are able to see more objectively what every family endures as they face addiction head on; anguished parents trying to help drug-using children, ignoring themselves as they try to hold onto their marriage, family and job; siblings, who have been ignored by loving parents while they focus all their efforts to save this sick child. Things getting so out of control under their own roof, they can hardly recognize their family. "How did we get to this place?" the distraught parent asks. "No one else could possibly be experiencing this hell," they incorrectly assume.

    This post is part of the ONDCP Stories of Hope blog series.

  • The Demon I Call Addiction

    Cross-posted from Faces and Voices of Recovery

    I was 9 yrs old when I had my 1st sip of beer.  I spit it out, but by the 7th grade I was smoking pot, cigarettes, and drinking vodka on the rocks. I left home for good when I was 15, I believe it was around 1984. I spent the years from then, until I went to prison in, October 2002 using drugs and alcohol. I wasn’t picky I would do whatever was available but my preference was crack or pills.

    I cleaned up briefly two times in all those years and that’s was only when I was pregnant with my \two sons. I have been free from prison since October 2006. Yes, I have slipped since being released, but I am clean now thanks to a po wer higher than myself.   Maybe its to help another addict, I’m not sure. I do know that I should have overdosed numerous times over, but for some reason I have been spared.

    I have my 2 sons, that I have not raised, but we are forming bonds.  The love and trust is growing everyday.

    It is a struggle. Some days it would be so “easy” to just give in to the demon I call addiction. The demon could take hold no matter how bad I didn’t want to, no matter how much I cried out to GOD to help me stop.

    I truly believe addiction is a disease that people need to acknowledge, just like cancer or aids. It is not just a “CHOICE” we make. I believe it is very hard for people that have never suffered from addiction to understand just what it is that we go through. For me personally it was to turn off my feelings, when things got to hard I popped a pill. When 1 wasn’t enough I popped two or three, ok lets get real, I snorted them. When I finally decided enough was enough and quit the last time I was up to twenty 30mg Roxies a day. Everyday I was risking my freedom, losing the home I had just bought, and losing my children again. So I reached out to friends that are clean and simply said HELP and for that I am here to tell my story.

    This post is part of the ONDCP Stories of Hope blog series.

  • I am Grateful for Recovery

    Cross-posted from Faces and Voices of Recovery

    My son Aaron was 17 when he said "Dad, I don't care where you go or what you do, but you gotta do something about you 'cause your killin' Mom." Aaron was in recovery and I had just decided to start attending Alanon. I went directly to the place where I was told I'd find an Alanon meeting. The sign in the entry way pointed UP to Alanon, and an arrow down to AA. I stood at the landing and walked down to AA.  

    Four and a half months later Aaron died in a car crash while on his way to drive a fellow in recovery to a job interview. Aaron's plan for his recovery was to move into a house with friends in recovery, get a job, go to school, and build on recovery with peer support. We took his idea and opened www.AaronsHouseMadison.org in August 2007. The fifth year begins this August and so far 14 young men ages 18-26 have lived at Aaron's House, gone to school, held jobs, and built on their sobriety through peer support.

    I am grateful for recovery.

    This post is part of the ONDCP Stories of Hope blog series.

  • Start by Doing What’s Necessary, Then Do What’s Possible

    “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” - St. Francis of Assisi

    As we begin the journey of recovery we are capable of doing only the necessary.  We don’t drink and we go to meetings and we live our lives in hourly increments.   Slowly, as hours turn into days and days into months, the fog lifts and we begin to recall our forsaken dreams and goals.   One day we realize it might be possible for us to achieve what we abandoned.  As our dreams are reclaimed we become the people we were intended to be and suddenly we realize we are doing the impossible.  That is the story of my recovery and as director of the Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery at Texas Tech University it has been my honor to watch the miracle of recovery flourish in our students as they begin to achieve the possible and awaken to the fact they are accomplishing the impossible, living in community with sober peers, achieving an education and becoming the person they were meant to be.  Our Collegiate Recovery Community is founded upon values that nurture the qualities recovering students need for success such as civility, commitment, community and clean, sober and healthy environments.

     Kitty Harris, Ph.D., is Director of the Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery at Texas Tech University

    This post is part of the ONDCP Stories of Hope blog series.

  • It Works for Me, My Life Has Turned Around Because of It

    Cross-posted from Faces and Voices of Recovery

    My addiction to opiate/opioid drugs began in 1974, back in New York City, where I was born and raised. Like most addicts, I first began getting high with beer and marijuana, then on to LSD, amphetamines, barbiturates, right up to that first shot of heroin. It was "love at first sight". I immediately fell in love with the high. Within a few months I was addicted. It became the focus of my daily routine. Before long, my paycheck couldn't cover the cost of what I was using and began a series of petty crimes to get the extra money. Nothing was sacred or taboo. Whatever I could do to get money, I did.

    I finally got arrested by Federal authorities for possession of stolen mail (tax return checks), forgery and bank fraud. I served 47 months. I wasn't yet 21 years old. My use would seem to pick up where it left off each time I was paroled. I'd eventually end up back in prison on a new charge. This pattern continued (addiction, crime, arrest, incarceration, parole) from 1974 until 1986, when I relocated to Minnesota to live with a woman I had been corresponding with for 24 months, while still incarcerated in a NY State prison. We both agreed that my relocation far away from NYC would help me start fresh. It did, for almost 9 years. But no matter where you go, there you are.

    My old self caught up to me in 1995. There was no heroin in St. Cloud (that I knew of, anyway) but I did know a guy who was getting morphine prescribed regularly for a severe knee injury, and each month I would buy a few from him, break them down in water as best I could, and inject them. Then I discovered OxyContin, which was far more potent than the morphine and it became my drug of choice.

    As in the past, I became addicted, but the addiction to OxyContin was worse than heroin ever was and before long, my habit was larger than what was available. I went back to pharmacy burglary, ended up serving 30 months in Moose Lake Correctional Facility in Minnesota. My addiction didn't stop there. It was only dormant while I was incarcerated.

    Not long after my release from Moose Lake, I started using again, violating the terms of my parole and did 30 day chunks of what time I had left until my time had expired. I got into shoplifting to make money to buy pain pills here and there, but most of them were not injectable, and that's what I craved, intravenous drugs.

    I went back to burglarizing pharmacies, a few times, and didn't get caught. But the "good stuff" like OxyContin, Morphine and Fentanyl was no longer easy to find. That still had to be purchased. To get the extra money, I was back to shoplifting.

    In and out of Benton County jail so many times for short stays (30, 60, 90, 120 days, etc) here and there. I finally got sick and tired of it all and enrolled in a methadone maintenance program. This past November 3rd was my 2 year anniversary of not using illicit street drugs or pharmaceuticals. I haven't been in jail in over 2 years, I also quit smoking. I attend outside support groups and relapse prevention groups at St. Cloud Metro (the methadone clinic). Some people will criticize methadone, saying it's only a substitutes for narcotics. In a way, it is. But it's administered under a doctor's orders, by a nurse and in a clinical setting. I give regular urine samples to monitor my progress. I do not get high on my dose (110 mg.) and I look at it as being similar to a diabetic who needs their insulin.

    I have proven time and time again, that I have a chemical imbalance in my brain and have a pre-disposition to opiate/opioid drugs, and methadone eliminates the cravings in addition to blocking the opioid receptor sites in my brain, so that even if I were to try and get high from any narcotics, the methadone blockades the effects. It works for me, and my life has turned around because of it.

    This post is part of the ONDCP Stories of Hope blog series. 

  • I Can't Believe a Woman Like Me Turned into a Woman Like Me

    Cross-posted from Faces and Voices of Recovery

    Hi, my name is Kelley. I can't remember my first drink or drug. They were always a part of my life. I was brought up around drugs and alcohol and they were intertwined with every feeling and nuance: love, hate, anger, fun, laughter, tears, and pain, both physical and mental. I started drinking young and then began getting high with my mother, once again learning that drugs and relationships went together. I learned to lie, cheat and steal and moved on to bigger and better things as I moved on to bigger arenas. In San Diego, I met a man and methamphetamine and fell in love with both, along with the needle. I lost a child and drug two more children through the dangers of ripping and running. We decided we were going to get clean and moved to Oregon, but wherever you go, there you are and there we were. After many showdowns and altercations, with various law enforcement agencies involved, it was time to call it a day.

    I have now been clean and sober for 21 years and am a member of mutual aid group. I had the opportunity to go to treatment. I have gone to school and now help people like myself. Those two children are now grown with children and I had another "clean and sober baby." I have loved and lost, experienced growth and death and made it through it all clean. I have some clear beliefs: 1. I believe the 12 steps taught me a way of living, not just a way to stay clean. 2. I believe that I never have to use again-no matter what and 3. From where I started to where I am - I can't believe a woman like me, turned into a woman like me.

    This post is part of the ONDCP Stories of Hope blog series

  • A Healthy Holiday Party Includes Non-alcoholic Drinks

    The holiday season provides a number of opportunities to celebrate with family and friends.  For individuals in recovery, it can also mean situations that challenge their recovery. That’s why, if you are hosting a gathering, be sure to provide non-alcoholic options for your guests.Thanks to our partner Epicurious.com,  here are some suggestions for your holiday get together:

    For many, a party isn't really a party without a good drink to enjoy. An alcoholic beverage often seems the obvious choice, but anyone looking for a non-alcoholic option is usually at a loss—and we're not just talking about pregnant women, kids and teens, or teetotalers. And by not providing non-alcoholic party drinks, a host may inadvertently create an unnecessary divide between guests who are partaking of beverages and those who are not. To foster a more inclusive atmosphere, below is some advice that allows everyone to share in celebratory beverages, with or without alcohol.

    Holiday Party Tips:

    • Prep Just in Time: For drinks that showcase fruit, such as the Strawberry-Kiwi Sangria, prep the day of the event so the fruit's vibrant colors and flavors will be at their best.
    • Substitute Freely: When you want a virgin version of an alcoholic cocktail, try the substitutions below. You can start with a 1:1 substitution ratio, but you should experiment and adjust to your personal taste.
      • Beer: white grape juice, ginger ale
      • Cognac: Peach, pear, or apricot nectar or juice
      • Sake: Rice vinegar
      • Tequila: Cactus juice or agave nectar
      • Vodka: White grape juice mixed with lime
    • Make Other Offers: Provide at least one special non-alcoholic drink that everyone can enjoy, or serve one fun beverage that can be "spiked," if desired. Another strategy is to set up the bar so that one drink can be made with or without alcohol—for example, the Mojito and Nojito. Another option to consider is serving non-alcoholic beer but keep in mind that by law, "non-alcoholic" beers can contain up to .5 percent alcohol by volume.
    • Dress It Up: Non-Alcoholic drinks need just as many accessories as alcoholic ones. Garnish drinks with sprigs of mint, slivers of zest, or any ingredient that ties into the drink itself—for example, fruit skewers-turned-stirrers that guests can assemble themselves.

    Non-Alcoholic Drink Recipes:

    Visit Epicurious.com to get more information on their favorite non-alcoholic drinks.