Vince Mercuri: Families can be a weapon in war against overdose crisis |
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Vince Mercuri: Families can be a weapon in war against overdose crisis

On Aug. 21, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced that 5,456 drug-related overdose deaths were reported by coroners and medical examiners in Pennsylvania for 2017. This number represents a 16 percent increase in overdose deaths from 2016. That correlates to 15 overdoses each day in Pennsylvania.

On Aug. 16, the Centers for Disease Control reported 72,000 overdose deaths nationwide for 2017, a
9.5 percent increase over 2016 and 200 deaths a day — or one death every eight minutes.

These staggering numbers mean that each year we are losing more of our nation’s young adults than the entire 20 years of the Vietnam War, in which we lost 58,220 lives.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has proclaimed the following: The state’s No. 1 public health problem is opiate addiction; the state’s No. 1 public-safety problem is opiate addiction; the state’s
No. 1 cause of accidental deaths is opiate overdose.

The evidence is clear, and growing daily, that our country is adrift emotionally, behaviorally, mentally and spiritually. Government interventions, funding and proclamations alone will not stop the disintegration.

We need families to provide firm and consistent foundations that encourage, promote and reward healthy decisions and lifestyles.

A source that can help is the model of risk and protective factors across the lifecycle, developed by Drs. R. David Hawkins and Ricardo Catalano at the University of Washington in Seattle. The premise of their proven, evidence-based approach states that “to prevent a problem from happening we need to identify the factors that increase the risks of that problem occurring and then find ways to reduce them by enhancing protective or resiliency factors within individuals, peers, families, schools and communities.”

This model is a means to evaluate, intervene and provide guidance for families, schools and communities attempting to give those at risk a pro-social environment and structure.

Risk factors include sensation-seeking behaviors; poor social skills; aggressive, impulsive, passive and withdrawn behaviors; low commitment to school; deviant peer group; poverty; permissive parenting; harsh, controlling discipline, lack of discipline or inconsistent discipline; marital conflict; and lack of parental warmth. These factors increase the chances of mental health and substance abuse-related problems.

Protective factors can reduce the chances of these issues. These include clear expectations for behaviors at home and school; positive norms and values; physical and psychological safety; engagement and connection with family, school, religion and culture; and academic and intellectual development.

Raising secure, stable and well-grounded children is difficult, complex and far from an exact science. But we do know from years of prevention science that identifying risk factors and promoting protective factors can help to reduce the potential for more casualties of this current national epidemic.

For more information on risk and protective factors, visit

Vince Mercuri, executive director of the Open Door Alcohol/Drug Treatment Center and Crisis Intervention Program in Indiana, Pa., is a member of the
Valley News Dispatch Editorial Board.

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