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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 StopMedicineAbuse.org, 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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