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Dear LA County Community,

MARCH 1, 2019
Los Angeles County is such a special place, and the young people here have access to amazing diversity and experiences. In my neighborhood alone, I’ve watched young people contribute so much – they are a vibrant part of the community, contributing to making it a happier, healthier and more just place. An important goal of the Department of Public Health is to give young people all the tools and resources they need to realize their potential and to thrive. There are many factors that can derail young people: violence, bullying, income and food insecurity, housing instability and/ or homelessness, mental and physical health issues, and using drugs and alcohol. As the opioid epidemic unfolds in our country and in Los Angeles County, it is crucial for us to understand how we can help young people make healthy choices that prevent unsafe activities and drug addiction. Opioids (often prescribed for pain management) are very addictive, and it is easy for prescribed or recreational use to lead to addiction and overdose. Each year, almost 500 people in LA County die from opioid-related overdose. In 2017, 7 of these deaths were in people ages 15-19.

For many young people, access to prescription pain killers is fairly easy. More than two-thirds of students (67%) using opioid painkillers non-medically reported getting the medication from home. Others may get the drug from friends. Even doctors are prescribing young people opioids after procedures like removal of wisdom teeth. Because these drugs are prescribed, there is an assumption that they are less dangerous than street drugs. Combine relatively easy access, assumed safety, and a culture that encourages risk-taking and sense of invulnerability, and this becomes a recipe for experimentation and substance use disorders (a chronic disease more commonly known as "addiction").

One of the primary ways the Department of Public Health supports substance use prevention is through a network of 8 community coalitions throughout LA County. These coalitions are implementing activities that promote positive youth development by creating opportunities for young people, and promoting protective factors such as youth leadership, trauma-informed schools, academic competence, emotional and social well-being, community anti-drug/alcohol use policies, and support for recovery and healing. It is crucial for teenagers to be engaged and supported as they exercise more independence and make decisions for themselves. The Department is committed to ensuring that young people have a place and a voice in this world, and can follow paths of creativity, commitment, and contribution. We stand with all youth and community partners to insist that resources and opportunities are available that support optimal well-being. These are the most effective tactics to prevent abuse of drugs and alcohol and other risky behaviors. We can do our part to nurture children by supporting positive youth development activities in our communities and schools. If you have a teen in your home, create opportunities for clear and open communication about medication and risks associated with illicit drug use, including prescription drugs such as opioids. If you do have prescription opioids in your home, keep them in a secure place (a locked cabinet or security box is ideal). If a pain reliever is prescribed, ask the provider if it is an opioid and request non-opioid options. And if you suspect a young person is using opioids, express concern and encourage them to talk openly about the issue. Help is available. To learn more about available treatment services, see the Treatment Brochure (English and Spanish) or the Patient Handbook (available in 12 languages). For more information on preventing substance abuse, visit our Substance Abuse Prevention and Control website.

Stay in touch with me through social media and share your ideas about how to support young people in feeling connected and empowered in our community. Instagram Facebook Twitter

Until next month, wishing you peace and health,


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