Alpharetta mom educates community on growing teen drug abuse

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ALPHARETTA, Ga. – If you think your teenager hasn’t tried drugs, consider the odds.

Statistics show that about 64 percent of teenagers have used prescription painkillers and amphetamines like Adderall.

But those aren’t the only drugs out there.

Alpharetta resident Kate Boccia, founder of H.O.P.E, (Helping to Open People’s Eyes), an organization working to alert parents to drug problems by offering resources, said that today’s opiates are easily available in most high schools.

“If a kid has $20, they can buy opiates,” she said. “And those are highly addictive.”

Boccia knows from personal experience, because her son is in recovery.

“He started with painkillers and Adderall, and progressed to heroin,” she said. “His addiction opened my eyes to our teen drug problem. We knew he had a problem, but we just didn’t know what to do.”

Boccia said she met with local government officials who were unaware of drug problems in the area schools.

“Their own children go to these schools, and they have no idea what goes on,” Boccia said.

So she took it to the next level and is now working with the governor’s office to create awareness for what she says is a growing problem.

She said Gov. Nathan Deal shares her concerns.

Boccia said the platform used to educate students on drug use and abuse is weak and needs to go beyond the student and into the system.

“Red Ribbon Week just doesn’t cut it,” Boccia said.

Neil Kaltenecker, executive director of the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, agrees.

She said society is slowly recognizing the need to change its view on drug use and abuse.

“Drug addiction is a disease,” Kaltenecker said. “But often people view it as a stigma, instead of an addiction disorder.”

She said the state doesn’t have an adequate system for recognizing and treating drug abuse and instead treats it as a crime.

Boccia has personal experience with that too.

Her son is currently serving time in prison.

Kaltenecker said that in 2009, the state dropped funding for drug abuse education and now only receives federal funding through a block grant.

“Our prison population has increased,” Kaltenecker said. “We now have the 17th largest drug crime population in the country.”

Boccia and Kaltenecker are working toward the same goal.

“If we can create a better educational program and offer a safe place for families to go for help, we can make a difference,” Kaltenecker said.

On Jan. 13, Boccia and Kaltenecker participated in the Georgia Addiction and Recovery Awareness Day event at the Georgia State Capitol, an event to generate awareness about drug addiction and recovery.

“Over 80 percent of people with an addiction disorder started using before the age of 18,” Kaltenecker said, “but with the right tools, addiction is a treatable disease and recovery is possible, and we want to make people aware of that.”

For more information, visit www.gasubstanceabuse.org.