Remember the War on Drugs?

In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a War on Drugs, citing drug use as public enemy #1 in the United States. Since then, the government has used more law enforcement and harsher laws to wage that war. More than 40 years later...


Mission accomplished? ... Yeah, except not. Photo by Stephen Jaffe/AFP/Getty Images.

Well, I guess you could say that the government has lost.

Despite throwing tons of cash into the policies made under this campaign — the Drug Police Alliance estimates over $51 billion a year — the use of drugs is still as prevalent as ever. The rate of drug use remained the same while drug arrests went up. In fact, most arrests in 2013 were due to drug abuse violations.

With this in mind, slowly but surely, the United States has been making a shift away from using prison sentences to respond to people with drug addictions. In fact, Obama just pardoned 46 nonviolent drug offenders.


Why? Because throwing people in jail for using drugs just hasn't worked.

Critics — from non-profit organizations to journalists to criminal justice reform advocates have long condemned the use of the criminal justice system to deal with people with addictions. In fact, support for this tactic is at an all-time low: A 2014 Pew Research Center survey showed that 67% of Americans think we should focus on treatment for people with addictions rather than incarceration.

Still, according to the ACLU, drug-related arrests are the reason why one-fourth of inmates are in jail. Instead of decreased drug use, we've just gotten increased imprisonment rates — with some of our most vulnerable people (such as the poor and people of color) disproportionately paying the price.

But one police chief has come up with something that works way better than an unjust and ineffective war.

Meet Leonard Campanello, the chief of police in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Photo via Gloucester Police Department.

Chief Leonard Campanello started a program to give people who struggle with addiction a judgment-free place to go for help. Anyone who is addicted to opioids can come into the station, surrender their drugs and paraphernalia, and not get arrested. Instead, they are fast-tracked to a rehab center that will help the person — for little or no cost.

The program started in June, and it's already a huge hit.

Its success has inspired more initiatives to provide more resources for people with addiction. Near the end of its first month, the governor of Massachusetts announced a $27 million initiative to create more resources to assist people seeking recovery, including a media campaign to reduce the stigma around addiction that often keeps people from getting the help that they need.

People have been coming from all over the country — including all the way from the West Coast — to participate in Gloucester's program. Upon learning about the program's success, other police departments have become interested in bringing it to their towns. In response, Campanello founded The Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative to help them as they set up similar programs in their own towns.

One of the reasons for its success is that each person gets an "angel" when they first come in for help.

The role of the angel is simple yet has a huge effect. They provide unconditional support to the person with addiction and to hold their hand through the process, sometimes literally.

What a difference a supporting hand makes! Photo via Pixabay.

Campanello told The Guardian, “Many of the people we have worked with have said having an angel made the difference."

This program shows how support can be a powerful force in helping people struggling with addiction.

Campanello knows that moving away from treating drug addiction as a crime and toward providing a safe space for people with addictions helps create better communities. And numerous states have succeeded have proven this by creating safer communities while also throwing fewer people in jail.

By treating people with compassion and understanding instead of acting like their addiction is a crime, more people will be able to access the help they need to recover that they might have been too afraid to seek before.

Considering that drug overdoses recently dethroned car accidents as the #1 cause of injury-related deaths in the country, this seems like a good way to help reverse that trend.

Want to learn more? Check out The Guardian's coverage of the program and visit PAARI's website.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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