‘Addiction is Real’ educates parents and communities about hidden dangers of substance abuse

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Addiction is real, as the spike in teen overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically illustrates. Yet the internet is actually offering products with which youths can hide drugs from their parents.

“Addiction is Real,” founded in 2015 by a group of concerned parents, is a nonprofit organization based in St. Louis whose mission is to provide parents with a proactive approach to discussing substance abuse with their children.

The group engages with educators, parents and community leaders to offer multiple empowering events to educate all about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Those interested in bringing an event to their community can find a menu of options and pricing here.

One of those event options includes the popular “Hidden in Plain View” presentation, which provides an interactive life-like bedroom exhibit for attendees to search. The exhibit features over 70 items that could indicate teen involvement in drug or alcohol use.

In-person events include a prevention handbook, and last about three hours.

As teen overdose deaths spiked during the COVID pandemic, Addiction is Real produced a film called “Don’t Wait.” The film features interviews with drug prevention experts and parents. Each download of the film includes a printable handbook, discussion guide and link to a free “Hidden in Plain View” online experience. The movie can be downloaded here

“It was one of the tools we created during COVID,” Addiction is Real Executive Director Erin Johnston said. “Our entire premise of our organization was going out and speaking, and that was something we couldn’t do (during the pandemic). To continue the mission of educating parents, we had to figure out new ways to do it like everyone in the United States had to at that point.”

Johnston told The Heartlander that kids are hiding drugs and alcohol inside marketed products designed to hide substances. Johnston says websites like Amazon provide items such as hollowed-out hairspray canisters, hollowed-out books and “anything you see that is typical for a teenager. There are different ways for them to modify that, so there is a spot to hide drugs or the scent of drugs.”

Johnston says her group tells kids not to put anything in their mouths if a parent or trusted adult hasn’t offered them. 

“We’re seeing a ton of fentanyl and fentanyl overdose deaths. It takes the equivalent of three grains of salt of fentanyl to kill someone instantly when they take it. It’s gotten a lot more dangerous. They can think they are smoking pot or taking a painkiller. Those are all terrible, and they shouldn’t do that, but the risk is much higher now because a lot of things are laced with fentanyl.”

Johnston says over 70% of today’s youth receive drugs and alcohol from a family member. She often hears parents say they’d rather have their child consume marijuana than drink alcoholic beverages. But Johnston says neither are safe options for teens because the human brain is not fully developed until at least the age of 25. 

“You want to be extra vigilant if you have addiction in your family. We know it is hereditary and passes on. You want to really watch if there are changes in your child’s behavior, activity and mood. Unfortunately, this looks a lot like a normal kid hitting puberty. You really have to get to know your kid as young as possible and keep those lines of communication open. 

“It’s fairly normal for a 16-year-old boy to start sleeping in, to be more moody, to be quiet, lose interest in normal activities. The same things we look for in depression and mental health issues in adults, we want to watch that and will be able to tell when substance abuse begins.”

Addiction is Real  offers programs out of state for a $3,000 charge, plus hotel accommodations. If any group or individual can’t afford to pay presentation fees, the cost is subsidized with donations made to the organization. 

To learn more about Addiction is Real, visit its website

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