I know the effects that drugs have on individuals and their loved ones firsthand. My oldest brother was an outgoing and smart student, with hopes and dreams for his future. Unfortunately, drugs stole those dreams from him when he began using marijuana at age fifteen. After six years of drug use, rehabilitation, and relapse, his drug use escalated. He fought hard against the pull of heroin in his last months, but on December 23, 2009, my brother was murdered in a drug-related shooting. His dependence on drugs not only ruined his own health, but harmed his family and friends. He had a profound love for the people in his life. I use his love for the world to help his legacy live on, and share the lessons that my family learned to motivate others to not become a statistic of drug use and abuse.
I struggled through high school battling depression and not quite understanding what had happened. I did however understand one thing: that I needed to say something and do something about the growing numbers of people losing their lives, figuratively and literally, due to drugs. I began to search out ways that I could help organizations that were already combatting the drug epidemic that we were facing in 2010.
"442 Billion dollars pouring into substance abuse a year"
I realized how dire the issue was, even at the young age of 16. I joined several organizations and began to find that my coping mechanism was to speak about what had happened to my family and the repercussions that had followed my brother’s addictions and death. Now, seven years after my brother’s death it saddens me to know that addiction kills more than diabetes, heart disease, and cancer combined. America has an estimated 442 Billion dollars pouring into substance abuse a year. We are battling an opioid epidemic that starts in the medicine cabinets of every American’s home.
Why do I advocate?
Well, I think those statistics are just ridiculous. America is home to roughly 100,000 high schools and yet we have no set prevention program for these high schools. We have nothing but non-profit organizations to provide mental health tools and drug education and prevention skills to those schools. Most addicts are addicts because they began abusing alcohol or drugs before the age of 18. Maybe, if people like me who are willing to share the hard stuff and make the leap with a new and fresh approach to the stigma around drug use and abuse, maybe there will be a change.
There is a stigma around drugs, a stigma around addiction, and a stigma around recovery. That is so twisted to me. It’s almost as if, you get into drugs and there is no way you’ll ever be able to recover because the stigmas will follow you forever.
"I’ve used pageantry as an outlet for my platform"
I’ve used pageantry as an outlet for my platform. It’s made me realize how vital it is that we not only take mental health of the future generations seriously. But that we include mental health in our prevention tactics when it comes to drug use and abuse. So often different organizations fall back into the same patterns that the 70s provided, speakers with statistics. Our American youth need speakers with stories, understanding of what they’re going through, and understanding of the mental workout that middle and high school provides. I advocate for a change in the stigma around addiction and the realization that mental health and addiction go hand in hand. I advocate for the change in how we treat addicts and addiction. I advocate for a reform in how we educate the youth and their families about drugs and drug abuse.
Seven years have passed since my brother took his last breath.
Seven years and not much has changed except that more and more people are willing to step up and speak out about the addiction epidemic that America is facing – don’t stop folks.
-Hannah, Ms. Glendale Arizona