SPRINGVILLE — The human brain is incredible. It can solve math problems, distinguish millions of different colors, read facial cues, store a lifetime of memories, regulate bodily functions, recognize and respond to pain, read music and do a myriad of other things.
It’s hard to imagine that someone would intentionally damage this amazing organ, but millions of people permanently alter the way their brains act and react, every year, when they smoke, inject or ingest prescription or illegal drugs.
“Glee” heartthrob Cory Monteith was found dead in his hotel room, last Sunday. The 31-year-old Canadian actor, whom millions of young people considered a role model, died of a mixed drug toxicity involving heroin and alcohol.
Monteith began ingesting alcohol and smoking marijuana at age 13. He entered rehab for the first time, when he was just 19. This past April, he completed another rehab stint for his addictions.
Despite the help he had received, the singer, actor and musician went out for a boozy night on the town, before returning to his hotel and abusing the opiate heroin.
Dr. Richard Clark, an emergency room physician and director of toxicology at the University of California San Diego Medical Center, said that heroin – still an illegal drug – is abused by young, old, rich and poor across North America, because it is cheap and readily available.
“There is no better opiate high than heroin,” he said. “It’s converted in the body to morphine, within about 15 minutes, and gets into the brain dramatically.” The doctor said that users often relax by drinking alcohol and then, feeling good, turn back to heroin for a high.
The terrifying reality is, with that mix of toxic substances in his body, Monteith, like so many others before him, simply stopped breathing, according to Clark.
California drug and alcohol treatment center Michael’s House reported that the United States is currently experiencing “some of the highest levels of drug addiction” in history.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, young people aged 18 – 25 are the single biggest abusers of prescription drugs. The reasons are varied – to get high, to concentrate or to fit in – but substance abuse killed nearly 3,000 young adults, in 2010 alone, according to the NIDA.
Many people, when encouraging friends or family members to quit their substance abuse, recommend “just saying no.”
But the NIDA said that it is simply not that easy. “It is often mistakenly assumed that drug abusers lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop using drugs, simply by choosing to change their behavior,” that association said. “The initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, [but] the brain changes that occur over time challenge an addicted person’s self control and hamper his or her ability to resist intense impulses to take drugs.”
The institute recommended focusing on keeping individuals from trying drugs, in the first place.
“Although many events and cultural factors affect drug abuse trends, when youths perceive drug abuse as harmful, they reduce their drug taking,” the NIDA said. “Education and outreach are key in helping youth and the general public understand the risks of drug abuse.”
It is such a waste, when people like Monteith, who had so much potential, succumb to the evils of drug abuse.
I hope that this tragedy will be the wake-up call so many young people need. Maybe those who are considering trying drugs for the first time will think twice about their decisions and remember Monteith and his struggles with addiction. He had a wonderful career, a supportive family, a caring fiancee and a mass of fans, but he lost it all, in an instant.
Nobody is invincible. Actions always result in consequences, whether they be immediate or future.
Parents: take the time to sit down and talk with your kids, early, about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. Encourage them to participate in hobbies and activities that make them excited about their futures.
A lot of young people start abusing drugs or alcohol because of peer pressure. They feel left out or believe that they will be socially rejected, if they refuse to do drugs.
I remember the first time a friend of mine offered me a hit. I am thankful that I had been educated about the horrible side effects and consequences of drug use and had seen the sad reality of a life of addiction.
Although I was mocked, for refusing to even try the drug, all I could see was my friend’s disregard for my health and my future.
In retrospect, I know that this individual was never truly my friend. A person who will pressure you to hurt yourself or jeopardize your future, just to stay in his or her good graces, does not truly care about you.
Prevention is better than cure. Despite many trips to rehab, Monteith was never able to kick his deadly habit. It is much easier to say an initial no than to spend years fighting the lifelong, uphill battle of recovery.
But there is a way for those who have made the mistake of abusing drugs to get their lives back on track. It is important for those people to know that they are not alone and that there are resources available, to help.
Buffalo’s Rehab Detox Treatment Center’s 24-hour helpline can be reached at 771-0923. Make a Change WNY, which offers alcohol and drug dependency services, can be reached at any time of day, at 821-0391 (adolescents) or 854-2997 (adults).
Don’t throw away your future. You get only one life, so use it wisely.