(Eighteenth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)
In 1735, Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to his own newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette, where he used this now-famous phrase: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. He wasn’t referring to a pandemic or keeping your roof in good condition so it won’t leak or changing the oil in your car so you won’t ruin your engine or, my personal example, brushing your teeth to avoid tooth decay and gum disease.
When I was growing up in the 1960’s, brushing our teeth every day was a new habit for most Americans. Even though the toothbrush was invented in 1857, it wasn’t until after WWII that we got in the habit of regularly brushing our teeth. When I was young, I didn’t give much thought to personal care and it seems I didn’t brush my teeth often – I was too busy living life – which is why my two older sisters gave me the endearing nick-name “moss-mouth”. (FYI, I must have good teeth genetics because I didn’t have my first cavity until I was 30.)
Franklin’s letter was entitled “Protection of Towns from Fire” and in it he gave Philadelphians practical tips on how to keep their mostly wooden homes and businesses from catching on fire and also how to be better prepared as a community to fight fires when they happened by keeping chimneys well-cleaned, leather buckets handy, and having tile roofs. Once a fire broke out, it was so much more work and dangerous for everyone.
Sadly, with the Opioid Epidemic (in reality the Drug and Alcohol Epidemic), as a society it is too late for preventive measures. The wildfire is out of control. Since we failed to prevent this epidemic with all its misery and continual loss of lives, Harm Reduction (HR) and Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) are essential therapeutic interventions for those currently addicted to the very potent and deadly drugs that are now available everywhere in the world. In addition, being a part of a good support group and 12-step program along with a sober-living community.
But for families and communities, prevention is still the most important tool when it comes to children in elementary, middle school, and high school. What does prevention look like when it comes to keeping young people away from drug and alcohol abuse? We can begin by educating parents and children alike with all pertinent information about alcohol and drugs and their availability in our community and schools. Just openly discussing the truth about the trap of peer pressure and the dangers of experimentation will bring the lure of the novel and forbidden out of the enticing shadows and into the light of reality.
For our family and many others, we weren’t alone in not knowing that prescription opioids were dangerously addictive and readily available to our children or that they were experimenting with them. We didn’t know that heroin was easier to access for teens than alcohol. Knowledge is power. We were powerless.
One thing is certain: if we had known about the dangerous drugs that had entered the world our kids were growing up in, we would have made some vastly different decisions.
On Protection of Towns from Fire – Printed in The Pennsylvania Gazette, February 4, 1735.
How Americans took care of their teeth: