By: Rhonda Peters, YFCS Graduate Student
I will never forget how I felt in that moment. I was standing in the large education room facing a group of six families who had recently completed a community education program I had co-facilitated. That night, we had shared supper, shared some laughs, re-connected as a group of people who had been on a journey together for twelve weeks. Twelve weeks! In my rural community, it’s hard to get six families to commit to anything for two weeks, let alone twelve! But yet, here we were, laughing at each other and talking about how our lives had played out since the last time we were together almost three months ago. And then it happened.
One of the mothers spoke up, “I just have to say something. My daughter came home from school a couple of weeks ago and was telling me about a bully in her class. She was talking about how that person is always yelling and how selfish they are and that they never care about what anyone else wants.”
She took a breath, and dabbed at her eye that was starting to water. Her voice started to crack as she continued, “And then my daughter looked at me and said, “Mama you used to be like that. You used to yell at us all the time and I didn’t think you cared what else we were doing. It only mattered what you wanted. I couldn’t even get mad, because I knew she was right.”
Then her 10 year old daughter spoke up with a huge grin, “But she’s not like that anymore. We talk about things and she tells us what we need to do and gives us a time limit to do it in, and it’s our responsibility to get it done by then. We still mess up and she still gets mad, but it’s different now.”
The mother finished, “I never realized I was actually bullying my children. But I was. I was a bully. And I’m so thankful that now I know how to do things better, and even more, that we now have a strong enough relationship that she could tell me exactly how she felt.” She looked at her daughter and squeezed her hand. Her daughter wrapped her arms around her mother in a tight hug.
And in that moment, I knew. If I had ever doubted it before, I knew that the Empowering Youth and Families program was truly making a difference in the lives of real people in my own county. It’s easy to see some of the results of the short term goals – like improvements in parenting practices (such as yelling, discipline, quality time together, communication). We celebrate these successes right now, but we know that there are more to come that we may not see for years.
I’m talking about the other component – actually, the main goal of the program- to reduce substance addictions and opioid abuse. Research has proven that building stronger families can help lower the incidence of risky behaviors.
Most people in the United States have heard about the rising epidemic of opioid misuse and abuse. The epidemic is a serious problem that can cause withdrawal symptoms and even chronic brain disease. In addition to the struggle of addiction, opioids can cause side effects such as:
- Mental Fog
Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers that are available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OcyContin®), hydrocone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others. These medicines are useful when used as prescribed, but when people misuse or abuse them, they run they risk of dependence and addiction.
In 2018, nearly five North Carolinians died each day from an unintentional opioid overdose.
From 1999-2018, more than 14,500 North Carolinians lost their lives to unintentional opioid overdose2.
Addressing this epidemic requires interventions such as careful prescribing of opioids, community based prevention efforts, broader naloxone distribution, law enforcement efforts to curb drug trafficking, and harm reduction efforts like safe syringe programs3. North Carolina Cooperative Extension is making a difference in this epidemic through community based prevention efforts.
The NC Empowering Youth and Families Program (EYFP) focuses on opioid prevention education for youth and their caregivers. In Montgomery County, literally every parent who has completed the program has reported improvement in their parenting skills, and literally every youth participant has demonstrated the ability to set and achieve goals and even manage their stress a little better.
As that brave mother and daughter shared their story with the group, I felt their courage, strength and spirit. And that, is the real way that families are becoming empowered – by being vulnerable enough to reach out for help, being strong enough to try, and even fail, and having the courage to share their stories with their communities.
The EYFP program alone will not reverse the staggering national opioid epidemic, but it is making a difference in Montgomery County.
Chrissy Haynes, Extension Director/former 4-H Youth Development Agent, and Rhonda Peters, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent lead the program in Montgomery County. Both women are alumni of the Youth, Family & Consumer Sciences program at NC State University with Haynes having completed her Master’s degree and Peters having finished her Graduate Certificate, both in December 2019. Other project partners include health educators with the Montgomery County Health Department and FirstHealth of the Carolinas.
- Kansagra, S. M., & Cohen, M. K. (2018). The opioid epidemic in NC: Progress, challenges, and opportunities. North Carolina Medical Journal, 79(3), 157-162. doi:http://dx.doi.org.prox.lib.ncsu.edu/10.18043/ncm.79.3.157
Originally published by Deidra Craig https://yfcsonline.cals.ncsu.edu/2020/01/empowering-families-to-avoid-the-dangers-of-substance-addiction/