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Growing up has never been easy.

In the first half of the 20th century, we had two world wars and the Great Depression to endure. In the mid-20th century, there was the ever-present threat of nuclear war. At the turn of the 21st century, we experienced 9/11 and the rise of the war on terrorism.

Every generation has faced its fair share of challenges.

Today’s children face a challenge that is doubly dangerous, first because it is familiar and second because it has become so deadly. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than half a million people died from drug overdoses from 2000 to 2015. To put this in perspective, as many Americans have died of an overdose since 2000 as those who have died in all American wars and conflicts since World War II.

These overdose deaths are the result of a long chain of choices and circumstances. For many, this downfall begins in youth with familiar (which young people often interpret as “safe”) substances that have saturated popular culture. According to the CDC, almost 40 percent of high school students report trying marijuana in their lifetime. More than a third of high school students report drinking alcohol in the past 30 days and 45 percent have tried an electronic vaping product.

This isn’t to say that all teens who drink try marijuana or experiment with vaping develop an addiction or die of an opioid overdose, but for many overdose victims, these early forays into substance use starts them on the path to the grave. And there’s a strong relationship between the age of first use and long-term health risks.

Substance abuse may perhaps be the greatest challenge facing this rising generation.

How do we solve this problem? How can we prevent drug overdoses? How do we protect our children and help them grow up without falling into the cycle of substance abuse and addiction?

In the face of such overwhelming numbers, it can feel impossible to make a difference. Fortunately for us, our children have spoken and given us the answer. The answer is you.

According to the Pennsylvania Youth Survey, teens report less substance use and also report stronger disapproval of their peers using when they believe the adults in their lives pay attention to them and let them know they’re proud of them.

All adults can have influence on the lives of our community’s children. This influence exists regardless of whether we choose to own it – young people respond to our attention and our pride. Paying attention to and recognizing our young people also makes it less likely that they will think about or attempt suicide, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Adults need to know that every moment is an opportunity to make a difference.

To this end, the Cumberland-Perry Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition will be kicking off the “I Am the Solution” campaign in this month. This campaign is designed to empower adults to use their influence to take an informed, involved and invested approach to raising our children in communities across our counties.

The message is simple, but the outcomes are limitless – our young people need us now more than ever. Future editions of this column will go into more detail about how we can all serve as this protective factor for our children.

Visit www.IAmTheSolution.net to sign up today and add your voice to the solution to the substance abuse epidemic.

Adam Oldham, a high school counselor at the East Pennsboro Area High School, is a member of the Cumberland-Perry Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition.

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