By Joanna Arellano, NIDA Spring 2012 College Intern
My experience at NIDA was an incredible one where I learned a great deal about addiction, the science behind it, and outreach to NIDA’s different audiences. For instance, I had no idea that addiction was a disease of the brain and that certain individuals’ genes may cause them to be more vulnerable to using drugs and alcohol, along with environment and other influences. It was fascinating to study about drugs more in-depth and how using them really does change the chemical structure of your brain, making it more difficult to quit.
Taking Resources Back Home
On top of what I learned about addiction science, I was fortunate to learn how NIDA’s health campaigns work and how to successfully send out public health messages to different groups. Learning about marginalized communities, such as inner-city children, and some of the difficulties they struggle with regarding drugs and alcohol spoke to me the most for a number of reasons.
I am deeply passionate about helping to solve certain problems affecting minority populations because of my own neighborhood in Chicago, where drugs and crime are all too common. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many programs available for youth to start prevention early, but now that I’m aware of the resources that NIDA offers (and in Spanish too!) it’s definitely one of my goals to begin contacting schools and youth ministries about the materials NIDA offers.
Art Meets Science
I gained so much insight during my internship with NIDA about public outreach on a national level, the importance of many groups working together to carry out a project, and event planning—just to name a few. I will be forever indebted to those at NIDA who offered me their guidance and time to make the most of my semester there. It was one of the best times of my life!
Joanna Arellano was a college intern in NIDA’s Public Information and Liaison Branch within the Office of Science Policy and Communications during spring 2012. Since leaving NIDA, she accepted an internship for Catholic Relief Services in its Global Initiative program. To learn more about internship opportunities with the National Institutes of Health, visit the NIH Training Center.
One of the things I love most about music is its ability to transform tragedy into hope, as anyone who has listened obsessively to a "breakup song" knows. But, as artists like Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, Joan Baez, and countless others have shown, songs can do more than comfort. They can change who we are as a culture and inspire us to work together to make the world a better place.
So, when I first met with a group of advanced music production students at the
A Life Lost to Addiction
The high school class of eight fledgling producers, songwriters, rappers, and musicians were all highly enthusiastic about the project. When considering issues to address, they reflected on the senseless 2010 death of a schoolmate, 16-year-old Haley Paternoster, of a heroin overdose. It turned out almost all of us had seen someone—a friend, a family member—destroyed by addiction, whether from heroin, prescription drugs like OxyContin, or alcohol. Haley’s death offered us a tragic common bond.
The class decided to make an album of original hip-hop music focused on addiction, dedicated to Haley's memory. Her father, Steve Paternoster, a local restaurateur, talk show host, and philanthropist, talked to our class several times. His words were raw, real, and deeply moving. Other students, also touched by addiction, began sharing personal stories, allowing us to begin working through our losses and permitting us to dive in, fully aware and sensitive to how addiction can wreck lives.
Haley, We Miss You
It took just 2 weeks to complete the title track, "Haley, We Miss You." We pushed forward. It was very important to the students that we keep the message real, unlike many other antidrug education programs they had experienced in the school system. We wanted an album to be thoughtful and hard hitting while keeping in mind the many complexities surrounding the issue.
The students composed songs about the power of music, the apparent contradictions of the "war on drugs," and the hardships of growing up in the rougher parts of our hometown. They wrote about the dangers of prescription painkillers and how advertisers try to manipulate youth to buy their products. We looked at addiction as part of the larger context of the mental and emotional health of our community.
Jennifer Weiss of the Albuquerque Heroin Awareness Committee, whose son Cameron had overdosed after a long struggle with heroin addiction, approached us. Cameron was a poet and rapper who, before he died, had composed and partially recorded a song about his struggle, "A One Way Track To Hell." It was a haunting and powerful work that unknowingly foreshadowed Cameron’s death; we accepted the challenge of completing the backing music and remixing the song to include in the album.
A CD for Every 8th Grader in Albuquerque
The album was just the first step. Our ultimate goal: to produce a CD for every 8th grader in Albuquerque. Prevention experts suggest that 8th graders are at the highest risk for experimenting with opioid painkillers, usually in the form of OxyContin, which was the case for Haley before switching to heroin. We felt the best approach was to try to reach out to kids at risk of using before they start.
Our label, "SoundOven," was created both as a musical identity and as the name for the organization we wanted to launch using music and film as media for positive social change. We knew we needed a budget for CD duplication, printing costs, and a music video. So, we started a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo asking for help. The fundraising appeal has concluded, but you can still check out our pitch video.
We received an overwhelming response: in 90 days, we had raised more than $10,000. Haley’s dad Steve was personally very generous, but we also got a big helping hand when the Albuquerque Journal did a front-page story on our campaign, subsequently picked up in local TV newscasts. In the end, more than 100 people from 5 countries contributed to our cause.
The Mission Continues
I could not be prouder of my students, Floyd Moya, Robert Serrano, Falon Cole, Ruben Valenzuela, Caelan Harris, Issac Leeman, Alex Wilson, Quinlan Spears, and Alex Torres. Their creativity, passion, and dedication makes me excited to get up every morning to do this work.
But the work is not yet done. We now have 2,000 copies of the finished CD to place into the hands of youth at risk for opioid addiction—which could really be anyone. We are coordinating with the heroin awareness committee and Albuquerque Public Schools substance abuse counselors, the culmination of our yearlong effort.
Blake Minnerly is a musician, filmmaker, and educator whose passion is helping young people make meaningful, professional media projects that advocate for positive social change in their communities. Besides his work at the Media Arts Collaborative Charter School, he plays in several bands and does freelance soundtrack composition, sound design, and editing. He is currently in the process of incorporating SoundOven as an independent nonprofit to continue and expand the project started in his advanced music production class.
- The Albuquerque film office for securing locations and permits from the city at no cost
- The Film Tech program at the Community College of New Mexico for raising our production values exponentially with their outstanding equipment and talented students
- The Mount Olive Baptist Church for generously lending their facility and the talented voices of their choir
Someone offers you a cigarette or a beer. In the split second that you have to consider your answer, what do you think about?
What your friends will think?
What about what your parents would think?
When you know that your parents don’t want you to drink, smoke, or use drugs, is that enough to stop you from doing it?
The evidence points to yes: One source says that 3 out of 4 teens say parents are the biggest influence on their decision on whether or not to drink alcohol.
And another survey showed that teens who thought their parents would strongly disapprove of smoking were very unlikely to report smoking cigarettes in the past month.
Communication and Respect Are Key
Separating yourself from your parents is an important part of growing up; teens need to learn to think for themselves and make decisions on their own, after all. But that doesn’t mean parents can’t have some influence when it comes to their kids’ health.
But instead of simply disapproving, isn’t it more about how parents talk to their kids that makes them pay attention—or not? For example, a parent saying “Don’t do this because I said so” may have less impact than if they communicated in an open-minded and respectful way, even about unhealthy behaviors they disapprove of.
So back to our original question: If you know your parents disapprove of something, are you more or less likely to do it? Why?
Drug awareness has been an important subject to me since I was a young girl. My parents taught me from a young age to stand up for what I believe in, no matter what. I have always felt that young adults are under a lot of pressure from friends and family to make good grades and smart decisions. Kids are always told what they should do with no explanations why, and I feel that if we educate children about the consequences of their actions, they might make a change.
My senior project at O’Connell College Preparatory High School was a “Drug Awareness Pep Rally” during National Drug Facts Week 2013, for which I teamed up with the Bay Area Council on Drugs and Alcohol in Galveston, Texas. I honestly was very nervous because I did not know if my fellow students would enjoy what I had planned. I set up tables with incentives and NIDA’s “Shatter the Myths” booklets so that the faculty and staff could grab whatever they wanted as they walked in. I asked for three volunteers from each class to represent their class for the “National Drug IQ Challenge”—a quiz about drug facts—that I made into a game show. I also recruited helpers to hand out the quizzes and throw mini basketballs into the crowd to pump everyone up.
The incentive to win the game show was a pizza party to the class that made the most points. All of the contestants were cheating off the students in the crowd, so I quickly made them flip around to the other side of the table. The game show format made a tough subject seem fun, and both the teachers and students benefited from the quiz.
The next part of the “Drug Awareness Pep Rally” was making posters with a witty statement that could be put up around the school, like “pot mayk you stoopid.” The classes were judged on their posters by creativity and penmanship. Surprisingly, every student really got into it and helped out. While posters were being made, basketballs and Frisbees were flying all over the gym, just like a pep rally before a football game. The teachers decided who had the best poster and that class also won a pizza party.
Afterwards, students and teachers told me how fun and informative my pep rally was. My goal was to make drug awareness fun for a school full of young adults, and it worked! I hope in the future that some other students will take on this project and help spread drug awareness throughout schools in our area and around the country.
Emily Low, a senior at O'Connell High School, adopted National Drug Facts Week 2013 as her senior project and coordinated a pep rally against drugs and a poster contest. Z5HFBURU9V9M
What is Allura Garis’ Natural High? Music.
Why? She enjoys how music brings people together. She also loves the passion that her favorite musicians bring to their performances.
Allura became the Youth Engagement Coordinator for Natural High, a drug abuse prevention organization, thanks to her commitment to living a drug-free life. But it wasn’t always that way.
A Rocky Start
As a high school freshman in southern California, Allura worked with local and national rock musicians as a band promoter, helping to expose teens and young adults to new music and encouraging them to attend concerts.
Unfortunately, Allura fell in with the wrong crowd her junior year. Her new friends did drugs, and she began to drink alcohol. But it didn’t take long for Allura to realize the need to stop these destructive behaviors.
“I lost self-respect,” Allura says. “I was working so hard to get my name out in the music business and I knew acting like this wasn’t going to help.”
A Life-Changing Encounter
Allura attended the 2010 Warped Tour, where she visited Natural High’s informational tent. She took a sticker that said, “Music Is my Natural High.” Later, she looked up the organization online and watched a video featuring Cassadee Pope, winner of NBC’s “The Voice” season 3. Like Allura, Cassadee’s natural high was music. In the video, she said that she didn’t drink alcohol or do drugs because, “I don’t want to be strung out, I want to have fun on tour, I want to be lively and young….I stay away from it.”
Her words hit home with Allura: “That was a message I really needed at that moment.”
Allura emailed Natural High and asked how she could get involved. She began interning with the organization in the summer of 2010. A year later, Natural High hired her as Youth Engagement Coordinator because of her enthusiasm for helping teens choose a positive lifestyle, and for her continuing role as a youth trendsetter in the local music scene.
In summer 2013, Allura will have the chance to introduce teens to the concept of “natural high” the way she learned about it: She will coordinate Natural High’s presence at all five of the southern California stops for the Warped Tour. She’ll manage the tent, plan the campaign, research the bands, and conduct band interviews. She will also represent Natural High at the 2013 Switchfoot Bro-Am benefit festival for at-risk youth.
“This journey has come full circle for me,” Allura says. “I love that I get to remind teens that there are teens and musicians that live a drug-free lifestyle.”
Now 20 years old, Allura Garis is a college student at Mesa College in San Diego and is in charge of social media outreach for Natural High. Besides music, she loves to skateboard, play tennis and softball, and spend time outside in southern California’s beautiful, sunny weather. Her other natural high is spending time with her best friends, and she hopes to plan a trip for them to visit San Francisco this summer.
NIDA’s first-ever Virtual Town Hall on Prevention is now online! What’s a Virtual Town Hall? Well, NIDA asked a bunch of experts in drug abuse prevention to come to the National Press Club in Washington, DC, and talk about how different communities can set up programs for teens that give them interesting things to do after school and on weekends. At the same time, we asked a lot of people up in Maine to meet at the local Opera House in Camden so they could ask our experts questions by satellite. NIDA research shows that when teens have neat things to do, they are less likely to make poor choices out of boredom. The programs are called “prevention” programs because having interesting activities to participate in can prevent making bad choices about drugs.
For example, at the Town Hall, we saw a video of kids in Maine rock climbing, hanging out with farm animals (have you ever groomed a cow?), doing service projects. Even the kids admitted there wasn’t much to do in their towns so they were happy to have after-school activities that interested them and made them feel good. And guess what? Drug use is down in those towns! If you want to see our Virtual Town Hall video you can click on this link—there’s even a 6-minute version. Show it to your teachers or coaches so they can learn why after school activities are important.
SBB wants to know if you think there are enough fun activities in your town for teens. If not, why not start something?
Have you ever felt like you couldn’t make good decisions because none of your friends agreed? Well, you’re definitely not alone. Take a look at these teens who wanted to be healthier and took a stand on teen alcohol and drug use by joining the Illinois Drug Education Alliance (IDEA)—no matter what their friends thought.
Even on Halloween, this group of teens ditched the typical party scene and got creative. They went trick-or-treating, but with a twist. Instead of asking for candy, they gave out brain-shaped stress balls and educated people on the harmful effects alcohol has on the teen brain.
“We all experience peer pressure, but not all peer pressure has to be negative. IDEA gives me a circle of friends who share my choice for a healthy lifestyle. Together, we encourage our peers to make smarter choices.”
—IDEA Youth Board member
Student members of the IDEA team, known as the Youth Board, work together to positively influence healthy decision-making in their schools and in their communities. They want every teen to understand that underage drinking isn’t the norm and that not everyone is doing it.
The Sara Bellum Blog had the opportunity to interview a few members of the IDEA Youth Board to get the 411 on their activities. You might be inspired by these ordinary teens who use their time in extraordinary ways.
Sara Bellum Blog (SBB): When was the Youth Board formed and why?
IDEA Youth Board (YB): IDEA was created in 1982 by a group of parents who quickly realized that the best way to reach teens is through other teens. At first, the board consisted of sons and daughters of IDEA members, but it quickly grew to include youth from all over Illinois who share a passion for the cause.
SBB: Who makes up the Youth Board and what led them to join?
IDEA YB: Most youth members are in high school, but some are in middle school. At our largest, we had 70 kids on the board! Usually we have between 20 and 30 members every year.
SBB: What are some of the main reasons youth join and stay on the board?
IDEA YB: Some of us get involved through the county; others through schools and friends. Many are leaders in their schools and communities. But we all share a common belief in what we do. That’s why we have an Alumni Board. Some youth love it so much that they can’t leave IDEA. They love to help us out however they can, even though they’re in college and busy with work. Everyone at IDEA is very active and involved in our activities.
SBB: What advice can you offer to teens who feel alone when trying to make healthy lifestyle choices?
IDEA YB: We tell them that there are other groups of people and friends who are happy without turning to drugs or alcohol. That’s who you want to hang out with.
SBB: How involved is the Youth Board in IDEA’s events?
IDEA YB: Teens are a crucial part. We get together for regular meetings and brainstorm ideas. We are there throughout the entire process, from development to implementation. We love to see our ideas unfold into programs.
SBB: How can teens in other states get involved?
IDEA YB: We would love to work with youth and organizations in other states. Anyone can visit the Web site, see what we’re doing, and fill out an application to join. Soon, we’ll have toolkits available that anyone can use! We’re always looking for youth who want to actively help and are passionate about the cause.
So, that’s the scoop on the Illinois Drug Education Alliance. Check out their Web site!
It’s hard to keep good news a secret. Some organizations think they can work “hush-hush” without us noticing, but at NIDA, we’re always on the lookout for people and places that are doing a new thing. So (drum roll please), let me introduce you to WyoCARE, the Wyoming Chemical Abuse Research Education (CARE) project:
WyoCARE is an organization that supports healthy living and substance abuse prevention in the state of Wyoming. So, what makes it so special? Well, WyoCARE not only provides free and interesting resources (like stickers, bookmarks, and magnets) on drug abuse and other healthy topics, its staff—along with a great team of graduate student and AmeriCorps volunteers—provide trainings, workshops, and consultations when they’re not busy sending out materials. It is this kind of “CAREing” that has helped them disseminate over a quarter million resources in the last three months!
This year, WyoCARE also displayed “NIDA Goes Back to School” campaign materials at the 2010 Governor’s Roundtable on Children’s Mental Health, an event held to thank everyone committed to improving children’s mental health. WyoCare used the opportunity to help educate youth and state leaders on the science of the brain, addiction, and drug abuse.
Think you have what it takes to CARE? Would you or someone you know quit smoking if it were proven that secondhand smoke was hurting your pets? Would you vow to keep a lookout for signs of drug activity in your neighborhood? WyoCARE’s resources can help you lead a healthier life and create a positive change in your community. Thanks WyoCARE!
OK, speaking of resources, we have a question for you—yes, you reading this blog post. NIDA wants to hear about how we are helping you (or how we could be doing better). For example, did you use information from our Web site for a science project? Or share it with a friend? We want to know—the good and the bad.
In 1982, then-First Lady Nancy Reagan launched an anti-drug campaign famously known as “Just say no.”
While many people—including public health experts—believed the message was an important one to get out to teens, others thought it was way too simplistic and would not appeal to them.
The message appealed to Mrs. Reagan, who campaigned tirelessly for the effort, appearing on television news, giving speeches, and writing newspaper editorials. She even produced a series of public service announcements with actor Clint Eastwood and got help from movie theaters to deliver the message.
In the end, the campaign was not effective in preventing teen drug abuse, and the phrase “just say no” has become something of a pop-culture joke.
Since that time, developing effective prevention messages has become a lot more sophisticated. Lessons learned include focusing on the facts about drug abuse so teens can make informed decision for themselves.
Another lesson learned is that teens are much more likely to pay attention when they are involved in the process. The Above the Influence campaign, for example, invites you and your peers to “share your voice” by submitting stories and videos about how drugs may have affected you or someone you know.
Check out the bulletin board at Above the Influence to see what teens are saying about peer pressure and other things. Lynn says, “Giving in is giving up.” Or Bobbi: “We are what we want to be, not what others want us to be, so don’t let the pressure get to you!”
Or as J.J. raps in his post, “Live Your Life:”
What’s the point of doing those drugs,
It just makes u weak, and clouds up ya lungs,
It messes you up, It gets u high,
But then you’ll see,
That you only did it to die
That’s a powerful message. So, now you tell us—how do you say no to drugs?
Update: Above the Influence has taken down the bulletin board. Share your voice on the Above the Influence Facebook page.