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Counselors fight substance abuse threat

Substance abuse among Kitsap County’s youth is nearly out of control, authorities say — and those fighting the battle think it could get worse before it gets any better.

“We need to find a way to engage our kids,” said New Beginnings Treatment Director Melody Dady. “We have to offer them something to get their interest going and to get them stimulated so they don’t make the choice to follow a path to substance abuse.”

While the reasons kids choose to take drugs are complex, Dady feels it’s the community’s responsibility to offer constructive choices to kids who have too much energy and time on their hands. And even with the diversity of youth — kids don’t all like the same things and come from similar backgrounds — Dady feels the first step is to offer them a safe haven.

“A lot of times they’re just bored and there’s no place for them to go,” Dady said. “They may want to ride their skateboards, but there are no convenient skateboard parks or skateboarding is prohibited where they live. They seek a release, and some stimulation. And even though marijuana is a depressant, they’re under the impression that it gives them some kind of energy.”

Dady, who subscribes to the “It Takes a Village” philosophy of child-rearing, believes Kitsap County needs to establish three youth centers. By opening new public facilities in the north, central and southern parts of the county, the kids would have an alternative to the mall, the streets or just hanging out at home — all situations which can become a petri dish for substance abuse scenarios.

Dady is aware of the budget problems faced by local municipal governments and doesn’t expect them to fund any elaborate new programs.

However, such efforts can substitute investments for imagination. Programs can be staffed by volunteers dedicated to fighting substance abuse. And governments may already own the buildings that could be easily converted into a youth center.

As for the programs already funded, such as drug court, Dady feels they should be kept in place.

“Drug court has been very beneficial,” she said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for the community. And more than the participants benefit, since it decreases recidivism. It takes a step to find out what’s wrong with people and what we can do to fix it rather than just sitting back and not doing anything at all.”

Dady points out that society manages to provide entertainment options for adults, and several subsidized programs exist to provide for senior citizens. Adolescents, on the other hand, often have to fend for themselves and become the victims of circumstance.

In many cases, two incomes are needed in order to pay family bills. When two parents work, kids are left to their own devices.

This is a result of a complicated econ-omic problem, where the solution is well beyond the reach of a drug counselor. There is a dearth of affordable housing and few family-wage jobs, limiting available choices.

When this forces two parents to work, they don’t have the time to talk to their kids. The kids seek their own options — which include substance abuse.

Parents, then, can only take little steps. Dady suggests a solution as simple as creating the time to listen and getting involved no matter what it takes.

“Many times the kids only need someone to acknowledge what they’re feeling,” she said, “and to let them know that it’s all right to make mistakes.”

There is a mixed message here, since kids who make mistakes are often labeled as bad, while others thought to be good are doing the exact same thing. They just haven’t been caught.

Such labels are hard to live down, according to Dady.

Drug treatment isn’t an equal oppor-tunity, since not everyone can afford intensive outpatient counseling required to kick the habit.

That most of the cost is paid for by insurance omits a whole segment of the population — those with minimal insur-ance or no insurance at all.

“This makes it hard for low-income people to participate,” Dady said.

Part of Dady’s job is to conduct drug education seminars, which are required for anyone who has been arrested for a substance related infraction — whether they’re found guilty or not. The eight-hour session starts slowly and with a lot of resentment, because none of the attendees want to be there.

After a certain amount of time (which Dady said is different for every class) people start to get involved and tell their stories. By the end of the day, many participants can’t stop talking.

Dady was surprised at one recent session when only two people said they were acquainted with someone who used methamphetamine. At that point it was time for her to share.

Her own involvement with meth lasted a number of years, and ended when she, as many meth addicts are wont to do, hit bottom and lost everything. She regained her family, and is living proof that some people do come back from this addiction.

“The thought process for people on meth is distorted,” she said. “My counselor taught me to see things a different way. Once I changed my perceptions, I was able to kick the habit.”

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