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Substance Use Disorder is a Disease of the Brain

Stop the Stigma

Becca was not immoral or weak. Substance Use Disorder is a disease that is stigmatized to the point where many do not seek treatment. Those who do, like Becca, find themselves in an underfunded system with inconsistent quality of services that are meant for adults.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline  

Free, confidential, 24/7 treatment referral and information service (English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

1-800-662-HELP (4357)


Overdose deaths among 15-24 year olds
reached almost 5,000 in 2019

Opioid misuse is a national public health emergency

Overdose deaths due to opioids have increased 500% among 15 to 24-year-olds since 1999.

Source: National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics https://drugabusestatistics.org/teen-drug-use/

Take Action!

More funding is needed substance use disorder prevention & treatment 

Sign a PETITION in support of the "10% Recovery Support Set-Aside" in the Federal Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant (SABG) for 2022. 

"Anyone who has struggled to overcome addiction understands the powerful effect it has on the brain. What was once considered a matter of willpower is now understood to be a complex and chronic brain disease influenced by genetics, environment, and social and emotional factors. But despite the urgent need to develop new prevention and treatment options for addiction, little headway has been made by scientists and clinicians toward understanding this devastating disorder."
MIT - McGovern Institute

Early drug abuse correlates with substance use issues later in life:

  • Drug use among 8th graders increased 61% between 2016 and 2020.

  • 43% of college students use illicit drugs.

  • 86% of teenagers know someone who smokes, drinks, or uses drugs during the school day.

  • 2.08 million or 8.33% of 12- to 17-year-olds nationwide report using drugs in the last month.

  • 591,000 12- to 17-year-olds used an illicit drug other than marijuana in the last month.

  • 21.3% of 8th graders have tried illicit drugs at least once.

  • By the time they’re in 12th grade, 46.6% of teens have tried illicit drugs.

  • 4,777 Americans aged 15 to 24 died of an overdose of illicit drugs in 2019.

  • 788,000 12- to 17-year-olds meet the criteria for Illicit Drug Use Disorder (IDUD).


Let's Talk About Harm Reduction!

Harm reduction acknowledges the dignity and humanity of people who use substances, and attempts to:

  1. Save lives by preventing overdoses,

  2. Bring people suffering with substance use disorder into a community of care, instead of leaving them to hide in the shadows. 

Harm reduction accepts that for many reasons including past trauma, poverty, class, racism, social isolation and genetics, each of us is vulnerable to Substance Use Disorder. Harm reduction strategies (e.g. Narcan and Fenanyl testing strips) are aimed at reducing the negative consequences of substance use.

How might the concept of harm reduction be applied to adolescents? While the majority of adolescents who use may not require the kind of harm reduction strategies that adults need, the harm reduction approach is still important and can save young lives. If Becca had been aware of, and had taken some of the precautions outlined in this harm reduction tips document, she would likely be alive today.

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Take Action!

End the stigma associated with substance use and advocate for compassionate, judgment-free approaches to substance use disorder. If you live in MA, you can start by contacting your MA State Legislators to ask them to support the following bills: 

  • ​​S.1317 - An Act relative to Narcan availability in schools

Requires every school to have a nurse trained to use Naloxone (Narcan) to reverse an opioid overdose.

  • S.1309 - An Act to increase substance use prevention and awareness and reduce overdose abandonment 

Builds on Good Samaritan law - legal protections for those who report an overdose - and builds awareness in schools. 

  • H.2097 - An Act advancing public health and safety using fentanyl testing strips​​

Pilot program that would make life saving fentanyl testing strips available. This might have saved Becca's life. 

What else can be done?

  • Early screening for risk factors at schools and at pediatric visits.

  • Be familiar with the resources in your community that provide harm reduction programs,

  • Advocate for the introduction, further development and evaluation of evidence-based prevention and treatment programs, specifically for youth, and that use a harm reduction philosophy in schools and communities.