Op-Ed: Our Country Faces an Epidemic Like No Other


Right here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, amidst our rich traditions and enduring values, a somber shadow is being cast over our beloved country.

This specter is not an external invader or a natural calamity, but a silent, insidious crisis sweeping through our communities, threatening our most precious resource — our youth.

The teenage drug overdose statistics are a call to immediate action. Our bright, promising torchbearers of tomorrow are falling prey to an epidemic that is as deadly as it is preventable.

The figures are not just alarming; they are heart-wrenching.

The rate of overdose deaths among teenagers almost doubled in 2020 courtesy of the onset of the COVID pandemic. Worse still, it escalated a further 20 percent in the first half of 2021 compared with the decade preceding the pandemic. A first in our recorded history, the rate of teen drug death is on an exponential upward swing.

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The primary antagonist in this deadly drama is fentanyl, a synthetic opioid with a potency up to 100 times greater than morphine. Slyly mixed by drug dealers with other drugs like cocaine or heroin, fentanyl is the unseen enemy, causing unwitting teens to overdose due to the sheer potency of the cocktail they are ingesting.

Additionally, prescription opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine, benzodiazepines, and even alcohol are often the accomplices in these tragic tales.

The bitter truth is that these deaths are completely preventable. This must be a call to arms for parents, educators, elected officials and health care providers to join forces to stem this rising tide.

We have a clear mission: to inform our teenagers about the dangers of drug use, to be alert to signs of drug use, to facilitate access to treatment for drug addiction, and to explicitly educate them about the risks of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

As we combat teenage drug overdoses, implementing a comprehensive curriculum in America’s schools is a critical step, one that must be mandated by state legislatures nationwide. This is not a partisan issue. This curriculum must not only educate students about the dangers of drug use, but also empower them with the knowledge to make informed decisions and seek help when needed.

The curriculum should start with a basic understanding of what substance abuse is, how it can occur, and the potential repercussions. It should provide an overview of different substances, both legal and illegal, including prescription drugs, stimulants, benzodiazepines, alcohol and opioids.

Special attention should be given to the dangers of synthetic opioids, especially fentanyl, given their potency and prevalence in deaths from overdose. Students should understand how these substances can be mixed with other drugs without their knowledge, leading to accidental overdoses.

Students need to be educated on recognizing the signs of substance abuse in themselves and others. This includes changes in behavior, physical health, and academic or sports performance.

An important part of the curriculum should be about decision-making skills and resisting peer pressure. It should equip students with strategies to say no to drugs and make healthy choices that align with their goals and values.

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Students must learn how to respond to an overdose situation, including recognizing the symptoms of an overdose, calling for help, and administering life-saving interventions like naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug.

The curriculum should provide information on where to seek help, both within and outside the school. This includes local and national helplines, substance abuse counselors, and health care providers.

Finally, the curriculum should incorporate general health and wellness education. This includes teaching students about mental health, stress management and healthy coping mechanisms.

This proposed curriculum is not just about preventing drug overdoses; it is about providing our students with an empowering education that equips them to make informed decisions about their health and well-being.

It is time to move from reactive to proactive, focusing on prevention rather than cure. Our teens are our future, and they deserve every tool we can provide to secure a healthy, vibrant future for them.

Our efforts to prevent drug overdoses among teenagers must emphasize education, support and personal responsibility. By instilling these values in our youth, we are equipping them with the tools they need to navigate their lives with confidence and make choices that prioritize their health and happiness.

Together, we can help them build a brighter, safer future for themselves and their communities.

The views expressed in this opinion article are those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website. If you are interested in contributing an Op-Ed to The Western Journal, you can learn about our submission guidelines and process here.

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Perry O. Hooper Jr. is a former Alabama state representative and served as an at-large delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention.
Perry O. Hooper Jr. is a former Alabama state representative and served as an at-large delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention.