What you can do to ease the opioid crisis

Volunteer as a coach, tutor, or mentor

BY NOW, EVERYONE has seen or heard about the HBO documentary Heroin: Cape Cod, USA, and most have been bombarded with seemingly daily headlines highlighting the newest statistics or the record of overdoses in a given month. While the range of responses and emotions run high around the topic, the underlying feeling from most is often one of helplessness, and a desire to find out how individuals can make a positive impact. How does one take a problem right in our backyard that is so big it is labeled an ‘epidemic’, and feel like the average person can do something about it?

While the recent media coverage of the opioid epidemic in our community is certainly helpful in generating conversations and demonstrating the wreckage of those who have lost loved ones, no one is coming forward with tangible ways for how we, as individuals and as a community, can help fix it.  All talk is wasted unless something is done.

Many argue that this is a government problem, a policing problem, or even something to do with how Hollywood glamorizes drug use. Others point out the need for safe houses and rehab centers.  When figuring out how to address the problem, most recognize that controlling the flow of heroin onto the Cape or combating the over-prescription of medication are problems too large to have individual impact.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t little things we can all do to help overcome this epidemic. Those opportunities, like better engaging our youth, are ripe for impact.

Engaging youth on the Cape and the Islands is a huge part of the solution to the opioid epidemic. In many cases, these kids are victims of opioid use in their own families, in addition to facing the challenges that come with growing up in an under-resourced community. Often times, they are being raised by grandparents or are in foster care due to losing parents to drugs or incarceration. Our communities owe these children the chance to avoid following neighbors or parents down the path of addition.

From 2013-2014, almost 50 percent of inmates in the Barnstable County Correction Facility entered into the facility with an opioid addiction. Almost all of those inmates, over 90 percent, claimed that they started using recreational drugs at a young age before moving onto harder drugs. The need for prevention and connecting these young people with positive adult role models, before they head down that path, has never been greater.

Study after study shows that youth benefit from having positive adult role models in their life, especially when they face adversity. Whether it be volunteering as a coach, a tutor, or a mentor, adults who live on the Cape and the Islands can make an immediate impact battling the opioid epidemic by supporting the community’s youth – by simply paying attention to them.

Meet the Author

J.R. Mell

Regional director, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay
Years ago there was a sign in front of the Sherriff’s Youth Ranch in Barnstable with at quote that read “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” This statement has never rung more true than it does today. Take action in your community and join in on the side of prevention to overcome this epidemic. A few hours a week might make the difference between a child going down a path that could lead to the headlines we all are reading about, or be the reason for a new story that we’ll want to hear.

J.R. Mell is the regional director for Cape Cod and the Islands for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay.