A group of community leaders decided to take the lead on addiction education and prevention. They're called Your Choice, and their Stairway to Heaven could be a blueprint for communities everywhere.
Stairway to Heroin
Your Choice's site says the idea behind Stairway to Heroin is to create awareness in a target community. The event provides statistics related to illicit drug use, details drug trends and types of use, provides a medical perspective on addiction, presents personal testimonies from families who have experienced the devastation associated with drug abuse and addiction, and educates all about hope and recovery.
Scope of the Problem
On September 22, 2016 Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker issued an Executive Order recognizing the growing opioid crisis plaguing the state. Like many states (and America as a whole), the number of Wisconsin citizens who die as a result of drug overdose now exceeds the number of those who die from motor vehicle crashes, as well as suicide, breast cancer, colon cancer, firearms, influenza, or HIV. Opioid-related overdose deaths more than tripled in Wisconsin from 194 deaths in 2003 to 622 deaths in 2014 and continues to increase. They are now a leading cause of injury deaths in Wisconsin.
Youth substance abuse, including underage drinking, continues to be highly problematic throughout the state. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), which is conducted every two years by the Department of Public Instruction, reports on health risk behaviors among high school students. According to the most recent YRBS of 2800 students from 56 schools
- 15% of Wisconsin teenagers reported using a prescription medication without a doctor’s prescription in their lifetime
- One out of every six teenagers reported using marijuana in the past 30 days
- One out of every three teenagers reported drinking alcohol in the past 30 days
Your Choice's own participant surveys reported similar numbers to these findings. In fact, according to the 2016-2017 school surveys of 2,912 students from six schools:
- 50% reported that they had been offered a drug or alcohol
- 36% reported that they had tried drugs or alcohol
- 55% reported that they had a friend who used drugs or alcohol
Early Substance Abuse Issues
It's commonly known that substance abuse problems often begin in the teenage years. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), nine out of ten people with addictions began smoking, drinking or using drugs before they were 18. There are many consequences that result from youth substance abuse. Youth who repeatedly abuse substances often experience a variety of problems, including academic issues, health-related complications (including mental health), poor relationships with peers and family, and involvement in the justice system.
It's also commonly known that prevention is cost effective. The folks at Your Choice employ two strategies from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA). First, the Your Choice Youth and Community Presentations program provides environmental prevention strategies that use public education to “influence community norms by raising awareness and creating community support for prevention.” Second, the Your Choice Student Assisted Programs, Detour and One Family to Another programs targeted prevention strategies that reach out to populations already at risk for substance abuse problems. According to SAMSHA, research consistently indicates that the most effective prevention strategies use a combination of both approaches.
There are many reasons why youth begin to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Risk factors include genetic predisposition, brain characteristics that can make someone predisposed to make high-risk choices, environmental influences, and psychological factors. The more risk factors that are present, the greater the risk of developing addiction. In addition, according to CASA, the teen brain is more vulnerable to making high-risk choices and more vulnerable to the damage from substances, including higher rates of addiction. It is for these reasons that these prevention programs are crucial to youth in our communities.
Stairway to Heroin Event
Your Choice's Stairway to Heroin event includes cops, doctors, families and people in recovery. Including:
Dr. Tim Westlake, MD
Dr. Tim Westlake has been a full-time Emergency Physician for over 17 years. He is the Medical Director of the Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital and the Vice Chairman of the Wisconsin State Medical Examining Board. There Dr. Westlake serves as Chairman of the Licensing and Controlled Substance Committees and helps guide the State’s prescription opioid reform strategy. Dr. Westlake also serves on the State Controlled Substances Board and is a member of the Governor’s Taskforce on Opioid Abuse. Lastly, Dr. Westlake formed and is Chairman of the Wisconsin State Coalition for Prescription Drug Abuse Reduction.
Detective Chris Kohl
Detective Chris Kohl is a member of the Waukesha County’s Sheriff Department. Kohl served on the Waukesha County Metro Drug Unit, where he experienced firsthand the damage caused by the proliferation of opioids and heroin. The detective is passionate about providing parents and the community with the information they need to help prevent our youth from going down this road.
Chris Gleason has worked in the Addiction field since 1995. He's a Certified Advanced Addiction Counselor, holds a BA in Human Services from Judson University a Master’s in Community Counseling from Argosy University. Gleason has also presented on many different topics, both locally and nationally, including Co-Occurring Treatment for Adolescents and Opiate/Heroin Addiction in the Adult and Adolescent population. Gleason is currently the Executive Director of Rosecrance for Central Illinois, as well as an adjunct professor at Aurora University in the Department of Social Work, where he focuses on addiction studies.
The Lybert family – Sandi, Rick, Ashleigh and Tyler – founded Your Choice to Live, Inc. after dealing with addiction in their family. Tyler started using drugs in sixth grade as a way to make friends and fit in. Tyler’s drug use escalated from alcohol and marijuana to pills and heroin. He was in and out of jail. His family life deteriorated from the stress of his drug use. During the Lybert’s presentation, Ashleigh speaks about the pressure to be the perfect sister in light of her brother’s addiction and feeling neglected by her parents. Rick talks about being angry that his son couldn’t conquer his addiction and Sandi explains how she enabled her son to the point that her marriage nearly crumbled. Tyler entered treatment at age 21 and has been sober since 2008. The Lybert’s are passionate about communicating their story and removing the stigma of teen substance abuse in hopes of helping other families.
Applauding Your Choice & Stairway to Heroin
Recovery Boot Camp would like to applaud Your Choice and Stairway to Heroin, and to thank the entire team for all their efforts in addiction prevention and education. We're especially grateful for the Lybert Family for founding and operating Your Choice and its attendant Stairway to Heroin event. It can be incredibly difficult to go public with a family's addiction story; it can be even more difficult to take that story on the road. To do both, and to help other families suffering with addiction in the process, is an inspiring feat. And their Stairway to Heroin is a feat that could and should be mimicked by communities everywhere.