Oklahoma has a lack of resources available for young people struggling with addiction, a problem highlighted at a panel discussion Tuesday night.
Additionally, Oklahoma's mental health and substance agency has only $10 million available to focus on substance abuse prevention, said Terri White, commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
“We have almost zero dollars in prevention,” said White, one of several panelists.
The panel discussion followed a screening of “12: Promises,” a documentary that focused on young people from Oklahoma who are former addicts.
Other panelists included: Kelly Dyer Fry, editor of The Oklahoman and vice president of news and information for OPUBCO Communications Group, who discussed what it's like to be a parent with a child in recovery, and Peter Messiah, director of the Oklahoma City University Addiction Prevention Studies Program.
Three young people in recovery also were on the panel.
Austin, 23, whose last name wasn't given, has been sober for seven years and shared his story of recovery. He is featured in the film, and said he saw the impact addiction had on his family. He saw his father die as a result of alcoholism.
“I knew what was going to happen, or most likely what was going to happen,” he said. “I had to make a decision.”
The 12 Recovery Foundation, an Oklahoma City-based group, helped produce the documentary, and plans to continue to produce a series of documentaries about youth in recovery.
One in 10 Oklahoma residents struggle with addiction, White said. Also, one in 10 struggle with mental illness.
About 80 percent of youth who need help in Oklahoma cannot get it because of a lack of resources, White said.
Young people are especially susceptible to developing an addiction, White said. The prefrontal cortex in the brain isn't fully developed until a person is between 20 and 25, White said. That part of the brain is most susceptible to damage from alcohol and other drugs — and also is the part of the brain that controls a person's ability to pass judgment on decisions, she said.
“It's that part of the brain that's not quite fully developed yet, and when alcohol is introduced to it, it starts a chemical craving for alcohol,” White said.
It's critical that people are trained to provide appropriate evidence-based prevention, said Messiah, of Oklahoma City University.
“If you do it wrong, it's just wrong,” Messiah said. “It does the exact opposite of what you intend it to do.”
One of the examples given as a failure was the D.A.R.E. program, founded in the 1980s, which was popular in many schools nationwide.
Research has shown that the program didn't work, and it serves as an example of why it's important that the programs being used to educate youth are evidence-based, White said.