About the Problem
The abuse of alcohol and illicit drugs, as well as misuse of over-the-counter and prescription medications, affects the health and well-being of millions of Americans. Substance misuse frequently begins with youth. Nine out of ten people suffering from addictions started using substances when they were under age 18. Early substance use primes the brain for addiction later on.
Further, mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, are extremely prevalent not only in adults and seniors, but also among our children. Those affected often feel shame. The stigma associated with addiction and other mental health disorders result in secrecy and a reluctance to seek help.
These should not be viewed as distant national problems — they are fundamentally local problems. And because every community is different, the problems and the solutions vary.
Description of Behavioral Health Disorders
- American Psychiatric Assn, 2013
Substance use disorders: Illnesses that are characterized by cognitive, behavioral, and physiological symptoms and that impair control over substance use despite significant substance-related problems. SUDs typically develop gradually over time with repeated misuse, leading to changes in brain circuits governing reward, stress, and executive functions like decision-making and self-control.
Mental health disorders: Syndromes characterized by a clinically significant disturbance in an individual's cognition, emotion regulation, or behavior that reflects a dysfunction in the psychological, biological, or developmental processes underlying mental functioning. Mental health disorders are usually associated with significant distress in social, occupational, or other important role functioning activities.
Where does Milton fit in the picture?
Local community data is hard to come by because substance abuse and mental health statistics tend to be combined into regions or counties, not by individual town.
The Milton Coalition worked hard to successfully isolate local data. The findings make it clear that Milton is facing many of the same challenges that other US towns are struggling with. The data pointed to a need to focus on Milton youth, who have significantly higher rates than the state average of abusing alcohol and marijuana. While our youth tend to use other illicit drugs less frequently than their state cohorts, prescription medications are the most commonly abused drugs amongst our youth, aside from marijuana. And because there is a growing heroin addiction problem amongst young adults in Milton- probably related to the statewide opioid crisis, our coalition’s primary focus is on preventing and reducing alcohol, marijuana and prescription drug use in Milton youth 18 years of age and younger.
How can a Coalition help?
Until recently there have been virtually no community-wide campaigns dedicated to raising awareness and reducing stigma. No coordinated response, few existing town services, and no capacity to review and adopt community-wide best practices and policies.
To tackle the complex, growing public health challenges, communities are learning to act smartly in order to make an impact. No single town department can be expected to “fix” the situation. For measurable impact, communities need to involve and bring together multiple sectors, institutions, and diverse residents to gain a common understanding of the problems, coordinate strategies and policies, and mobilize resources.
Communities need a formalized structure, like a coalition, in order to work together efficiently to prevent these problems from arising in the first place and to make sure that help is available to those who need it, in a culturally and age-appropriate manner. Being inclusive of people of all backgrounds and ages, and being fully transparent, are keys to success.
Milton’s award-winning coalition is an opportunity to demonstrate that we care about these issues and can make a difference when we work together, especially for our youth.