Dear reader: Drug and alcohol abuse are often relegated to a dark, shadowy corner in many people’s lives. To help bring this issue into the light, Ashley O’Donnell, 2014 Colorado Youth of the Year, has graciously allowed us to publish this article examining how drugs have impacted her and her family.
Substance abuse is a common problem in today’s society, and you don’t have to look far to find people whose lives have been changed by it. This abuse could be your own struggle, or the struggles of a loved one. Ashley O’Donnell, long-time BGCPPR member and volunteer, knows what it’s like to live a life affected by drug abuse. Since she was a child, Ashley has endured the repercussions of living with a father who struggled with alcohol abuse and a mother who misused prescription pills.
In a recent interview with the BGCPPR, Ashley explained, “I always knew that [drugs] played a role in my life, I just didn't know what kind of role it was. I didn’t know it was bad until I started getting older.”
As a child, Ashley was forced to move multiple times, enduring evictions and empty pantries as her mother spent the family’s budget on drugs, rather than on rent and food. Life at home was tumultuous, with constant fighting between her mother and father.
“I realized that for my mom, [getting high] was her priority, she always needed to get more and more. That was a huge problem - that’s where all the money would go, that’s all she cared about, more than anything else. Even to this day.”
One night, Ashley confronted her mother about her substance abuse issues and the impact it was having on her younger sisters. As a result, she was kicked out of the house and forced to move in with family friends.
“It took me until I was a little bit older to realize what [my mother’s addiction] did to my family,” Ashley said. “She was always spending money that could have been use for groceries, or for rent.”
Ashley recounted an incident that occurred in high school, when her mother overdosed on pain pills.
“My mom was taking me to basketball practice, she was driving and all of a sudden she started having a seizure. I didn’t know what to do, so I grabbed the wheel and yanked the car up on the curb… it was one of the scariest experiences I’ve ever had.”
With her mother seizing in the driver’s seat, Ashley called 911 for assistance, only to later endure her mother’s wrath.
“She got angry with me for calling 911 because she had a warrant. I was like, what do you expect me to do?! I’m 14 years old! … I don’t think I should have gone through seeing something like that. It definitely scarred me.”
We commend Ashley on her bravery in sharing her story. Sadly, it’s not the first time we’ve heard this tale, and it’s certainly not the last, especially here in Colorado. Today, Colorado has the second-worst rate of pain pill abuse in the U.S., according to the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
It’s also a problem that doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon - a 2011 youth risk behavior study conducted in Colorado revealed that 29.2% of 12th graders had taken a prescription medication without a doctor’s prescription at least once in their lifetime. This is higher than the national average of 25.6%, according to Rise Above Colorado, a statewide anti-drug organization.
“I think prescription drugs are way too accessible,” Ashley said. “One of my brothers, for a while, followed [my Mom] down that same path. It was difficult seeing him go through the same thing when he grew up around it, and wasn’t happy living in that kind of situation.”
Rise Above Colorado reports that many teens feel prescription drugs are safer to use than street drugs since they are prescribed by a physician - regardless of whether the medicine is meant for them or not. About 42% of Colorado teens report that it is easy to take prescription pills from their parents’ medicine cabinets (Rise Above Colorado).
Here at the BGCPPR, we provide a safe place for kids and teens who have to cope with the effects of drug and alcohol abuse in their lives. Our SMART Moves program is a nationally acclaimed comprehensive prevention program that helps teens resist alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. The program features small-group activities designed to increase peer support, enhance life skills, build resiliency and strengthen leadership skills.
Are you or a loved one in a similar situation as Ashley? Ashley has advice for those of us who struggle with addiction in the family.
Don’t be blind to the fact that something is wrong, Ashley says. Don’t just bury your head in the sand, for “if you could help that person realize something is wrong, it could help.” Recognize when something is wrong, and reach out for help.
Don’t follow those negative influences. As Ashley mentioned, her brother struggled with substance abuse, even after experiencing the ill effects of their mother’s struggles. It’s easy to be influenced by someone else's poor choices.
Lastly, make sure you have a strong support system. Find a friend, a family member, or a third party such as the BGCPPR to help you out. Ashley found comfort and safety with her grandmother and at the BGCPPR. She’s charted a path away from the negative influences in her life, and towards a great future!
Need help? Go to RiseAboveCo.org or get help immediately by calling 1-800-448-3000 (24 hours a day/7 days a week).
Thank you for reading,
James Sullivan III, President & CEO
Posted on 5/24/2014 at 5:15:00 PM