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Substance Abuse: Tammy Walsh Works to Put an End to Teen Drug Abuse

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Let's say you live in a community where teen drug and alcohol abuse is a problem. Let's say you have two teenage sons and you work with teenagers as a high school math teacher. You've seen the devastating effects of this problem first-hand. You've watched more than one teen miserably suffering through an addiction. You've attended the funeral of a teen you knew who died of an overdose. What do you do?

If you're Tammy Walsh, of Northport, New York, you don't sit down and weep. You join a community drug and alcohol task force. You start a book club about addiction. You do something about it.

Indeed, that's what Tammy has done, and she is a busy woman. She joined the Northport/East Northport Drug and Alcohol Abuse Task Force about five years ago to help organize community events involving both parents and youth around the issue. It wasn't hard to involve other parents, but it took four years to get kids motivated to come to these events.

When they did, it was a book-club-type meeting and there were two moms and three kids there. Not much, but it was a start, one which quickly grew. Last summer, the Task Force held a community barbecue/fundraising event and 150 people came.

Then she started the Northport Community Book Club to educate about the havoc that drug and alcohol addiction can wreak on families, friends, and communities. "Our books focus on drug and alcohol addiction, recovery, and the impact of drugs on the community," says Tammy. And, last June, Tammy brought Stony Brook University's Red Watch Band Training program to her high school. This is a voluntary training program that trains bystanders how to intervene to prevent death from alcohol overdose. It's usually offered on college campuses. Her high school is one of the first in nation to provide it.

As Tammy has juggled coordinating these things, as well as her professional and familial responsibilities, people have really gotten involved, she says, particularly some of the authors of the books they've reviewed. James Brown, an author of fiction works involving drug use, will be visiting their book club, as will Mia Fontaine and Chris Herren. And in November of 2011, she became a FiveMom, an ambassador of, which is a coalition sponsored by the leading makers of cough medicines, with the purpose of increasing awareness of the rising problem of teens overdosing on over-the-county cough medicines to get high.

Tammy's foe, the thing that unites all her efforts, is teen addiction. "The thing is: addiction is addiction no matter how you slice it. Kids can get addicted to a lot of things," she says. "And while they may choose it starting out, the more they do it, the less of a high they get, so the more they pursue it, but it becomes more of an effort to maintain and survive the longer they do it. It's miserable. And no one can say never," when it comes to whether or not their child will get involved. Medicine abuse is a particularly pernicious problem because cough medicines and the information about how to abuse them are so readily available.

Why does Tammy do all this? Because she's strong, selfless, positive, passionate, and engaged. And, she says, "Because I simply could not attend another funeral for a life lost too soon." Wouldn't you do the same?

How have you talked to your kid(s) about drugs and drug abuse?

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2 responses to “Substance Abuse: Tammy Walsh Works to Put an End to Teen Drug Abuse”

  1. Cathy Seillhan says:

    So good to hear about such great work. Thank you. Wish I had this type of support when my son was addicted to cough syrup. I felt so alone in my small town, and of course, I was not. Good to hear of stories like this.

  2. Jeanne says:

    Just over a year ago my 21 year old sons best friend since kindergarten came very close to dying from a drug overdose on my kitchen floor. By the time I was woken up by my 19-year old son, “Billy” was not breathing and was completely unresponsive. My husband performed CPR for a full six minutes while my 2 sons and I waited for help. It was a miracle when he suddenly jolted awake and after a trip to the hospital, he was released the same night.

    That night changed my life in ways that I never dreamed. At first the boys lied and said that he did pills. My older son looked odd to me that night and I accussed him of taking them too. After several days of confusion and anger and a million other emotions, my son sat me down and told me a truth that I never would have guessed in a million years. The truth was heroin and both my son and the other boy were now struggling with a problem that neither family had any clue of.

    I live in a middle class, suburban community. There is nothing spectacular about it that makes it any different than thousands of other communities across the country. We live in a decent house, in a nice neighborhood…our kids joined every sport growing up, we took vacations and went to the beach and know all of their friends and parents. How is it possible that this is going on around us and I had no clue whatsoever?

    Since that day when my eyes were opened to this world – and this word that I couldn’t even bring myself to say for so long – I have been shocked to learn of the number of families that are dealing with this right here in my own community. I can rattle off names without stopping to think. I have met with other parents who I chatted with during soccer and lacrosse and football games, and now we are talking about drugs…heroin…and our kids and the plague that has affected our lives.

    One friend of mine has 2 sons, both have been in and out of drug rehab, court and jail – they are barely out of their teens. Another couple that is the shining example of the “perfect” family has been emotionally battered by a son who has gotten thrown out of college, stolen from them, wrecked cars and disappeared for days at a time. A star wrestler going to college on a scholorship, dropped out, spent some time in rehab, and became the first of their friends to die when he overdosed last July 4th weekend. Another promising college student, pre-law, has now dropped out of school and has been in and out of rehab. Both of my sons are fighting battles of their own. Thankfully my older son is doing great, but only after a few near misses, hospital visits and mishaps with the law…and as I am sitting here writing this, my 19-year old baby is being dropped off at detox before a 30-day court-ordered in-patient program.

    I can honestly go on and on…. and not one of these kids is over age 23.

    I see so many families being destroyed by this. This is right here…in our communities and our schools. None of us guessed. None of us saw anything until complete chaos hit over the past few year. I’ve seen grown men cry while they ask themselves what they did wrong as a parent. It’s heartbreaking.

    The more I come out of my own drama and talk to others, the more terrified I am of what is going on. I feel like I need to do something, but I don’t even know where to start. I see so many people afraid to talk, or just stunned in general. They don’t even realize that we are all going through this together because they can’t see past their own nightmare.

    I was not going to be “one of those parents” who had to deal with a problem like this. But here I am.

    I applaud you for the steps you are taking to bring awareness to this horrifying epidemic.

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