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The numbers are alarming.

Drug overdose deaths in Pennsylvania were 5,443 for a 12-month period ending in July 2017. Many people reading this may think that their loved ones are safe and that they will never be part of this statistic. The truth is, addiction knows no barriers and can affect anyone.

When I was growing up, addiction was not talked about. I grew up in a wonderful, loving family who taught me right from wrong. When I had my first sip of alcohol at 15, I did not know that alcoholism ran heavily on both sides of my family. I just knew that when I drank, I felt good.

My parents found out I was attending parties and getting drunk, and they tried their best to discipline me. Nothing worked. My parents struggled with what to do, and by the time they had some guidance, I was in a full-blown addiction. Thankfully, I was able to enter into recovery years later.

Not everyone is as fortunate as I am.

In combating this deadly disease, education is key. As parents and concerned adults, we need to be prepared at every stage to help navigate our children through life. Parents/caregivers need both accurate information on alcohol, tobacco and other drugs and the ability to respond to substance abuse at various stages.

I have had the opportunity to sit through many town halls, forums and trainings over the last few years in response to the opioid epidemic. At every one, I always find people who have been affected by the epidemic, but I am usually hard-pressed to find families who are simply trying to educate themselves as a precaution.

It takes time and energy to learn about this danger; time and energy that is hard to find between sports, extracurricular activities and everything that comes with raising children in today’s society. Time to attend one more event or attend a workshop is sometimes not available.

However, did you know that addiction is 100 percent preventable? Did you know that a majority of people will start with marijuana, alcohol or tobacco prior to using heroin? Did you know that addiction has a genetic component? Do you know what to do if you found out that your child was using drugs? Do you know where to get help, resources and support?

All of these questions are what causes a whirlwind in parents/caregiver’s mind when confronted with addiction.

There are many resources available to help answer all of these questions and more. My parents did not have the convenience of online resources when I was growing up, and I sometimes wonder if access to information would have changed my course.

For those of you who are interested, the new website,, provides some great information. You can also contact the Cumberland-Perry Drug & Alcohol Commission at 717-240-6300 or The RASE Project at 717-249-6499.

Kristin Varner, chief communications officer for the RASE Project, is the former chairperson and current member of the Cumberland-Perry Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition.

This is the fourth in a series of articles that will focus on how all community members can be part of the solution in helping to keep youth safe, healthy and substance-free. More information and resources on this initiative can be found at


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