On Friday, August 11, a headline in The Montana Standard read "Drugs, Obesity Top Concerns.”

The article was prompted by the reveal of the recent Community Needs Assessment conducted by St. James Healthcare and the Butte-Silver Bow Health Department. In examining these two issues of most concern, both have a definite impact on the health and wellbeing of our community.

Studies have shown that both drug use and obesity can shorten the average life span of an individual. There is also conclusive evidence which proves both can be induced by genetic and predisposed hereditary make-up. In addition, both have also been linked to childhood trauma. This suggests that the root cause of these serious issues in our community maybe related to individuals seeking substances (ie; food or illicit drugs) as a means to numb the pain of past trauma. The prevalence of these issues in our community provokes attention to Butte-Silver Bow’s rates in both of these categories as higher as compared to the rest of the state. Our communities focus on healthy nutrition and activity will benefit both issues however substance abuse is a larger beast to tackle.

As we delve deeper into these two topics, we discover their impact on the entire population of Butte-Silver Bow. We know that both obesity and substance abuse can be rooted in trauma. We also know that many societal factors play a role. Children traumatized by violence, neglect and abuse at home or other environments often exhibit behavioral health issues. These children often become targets for predators. Our prison systems are overcrowded with inmates who have high ACE scores, in fact 3 out of 4 also suffer from substance use disorders. This repeated toxic stress creates an absence of a sense of security. Brain development is also impeded which leads to a lack of coping skills and resiliency, thus triggering vulnerability in addition to mental and behavioral health issues. Various physical ailments and diseases may be linked to toxic stress and trauma which research shows can shorten the lifespan of an adult who was exposed to these adverse childhood experiences (ACE). The social and emotional strain endured by these victims, forces them to seek relief. This temporary remedy may come in the form of cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs, meth or even food.

CLOSER LOOK AT DRUG ABUSE

Let us examine further the impact of one particular issue, drug abuse. Specifically, on page two of the same August 11 newspaper the police reports outlined three cases of child abuse. The newspaper does not identify drug abuse as a factor in these cases, however, nationally, statistics indicate that as many as 80% of child abuse cases involve alcohol or drug use. The influence of illicit drugs on the brain does have a significant effect on judgment or lack thereof. In fact, Meth use has been directly linked to the rise in Montana’s Foster Care rates. In a single year, October 1, 2015, to the same date in 2016, DPHHS reports the number of children removed from their homes and placed in Foster Care rose 75%. This has created a strain on funding and availability of placement homes. Substance abuse, whether it’s alcohol, prescription opioids, heroin or meth, is a factor in domestic violence, violent crime, child abuse, theft, robbery and vandalism. These serious criminal acts cost our community, state and nation billions of dollars annually.

More important than the dollars spent are the lives that are lost through exposure to childhood trauma which can breed more substance abuse, addiction, and even result in death. We know that 90% of addictions begin during the teen years and most are connected to childhood trauma. The path of addiction is regarded as a constant struggle which frequently consumes a lifetime. Fatalities related to impaired driving, unintentional injuries and overdose make substance use the number one cause of death for youth ages 15 to 24 according to the National Safety Council.

IMPACT OF DRUG ABUSE

That being said, the substance abuse in our community affects all of us. As parents, grandparents, friends, neighbors, business owners and taxpayers, there are few among us who haven’t lost a loved one to substance abuse. The economic burden also has a huge impact on our school systems as the need for special services and support staff grows greater every year. These services are necessary to meet the educational, behavioral and developmental needs of children who are born under the influence of these harmful substances. The Law Enforcement in our community is strained as are the healthcare services. Economic development and recruitment can also be repressed as new businesses tend to seek locations in healthy communities. We, as a community must do our part to curtail this dangerous and deadly problem. The Community Action Team has been working diligently to educate our community on the damaging effects of trauma on brain development. By becoming a trauma informed community we all may better understand the despair in the lives of our children, families and citizens. By asking: What happened to you? Instead of, what is wrong with you? We can show empathy and offer support to those of our community who are struggling from adverse childhood experiences and the subsequent trauma those experiences leave in their wake. It is often that trauma that leads them down the path of addiction. Thus, repeating the cycle from generation to generation. Community engagement and connections play a key role in substance abuse prevention. Opportunities for these youth to bond and flourish have been proven to provide the support, mentoring and guidance necessary to lead them in a positive direction. It has been said that one caring relationship is all it takes to break the cycle.

PREVENTION EFFORTS

Butte Cares Inc. is supporting The Community Action Team (CAT) in partnership with Butte School District #1’s MT SOARS Program and many other concerned citizens effort to make Butte-Silver Bow a Trauma Informed Community. The CAT mission to reduce suicide rates among our community falls well within the boundaries of substance abuse prevention as we know nearly two out of three suicides are completed under the influence of a substance. Please take the time to attend an educational seminar to better understand Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE scores), the higher the score the more serious the exposure to trauma. When you are asked to sign a pledge to become a Trauma Informed Community Member, you will recognize the necessity and benefit of this effort.

Butte Cares Inc. has been the primary substance abuse prevention program in our community for over 35 years. Our prevention efforts have helped to define the cultural and generational trauma that continues to plague our community. Through our prevention efforts we have seen a dramatic decrease in the use of substances among our teens. However, our work is never done! Substance abuse is consuming our families and stealing our most vulnerable and innocent, our children. This critical issue affects all of us. We must all work together to form a united front. Substance abuse prevention is a constant battle but the result is a safe, healthy and drug free community for all of us. Please be a hero! Take a stand against continued drug abuse in our community. Support prevention; it works!

-- Linda Lowney is director of Butte Cares, Inc., 305 W. Mercury St., Butte. website: Butte Cares Inc. Details: buttecares.org.

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