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Education is key in facing drug abuse

Ingrid Blair, right, with her son Hunter. Hunter died in 2016 from an overdose, prompting Blair to work to educate the community on drug abuse and reducing the stigma. Photo courtesy of Ingrid Blair1 / 2
Kelly Hoyos, Hudson High School alcohol and other drug abuse counselor 2 / 2

Opioid and prescription drug abuse has become an epidemic across the country, and closer to home in Wisconsin.

To combat the issue in the local area, the Hudson Hospital Foundation has made opioid and prescription drug abuse the focus of its annual fundraising event in November.

One of the most important aspects of taking on drug abuse is education, and the hospital has partnered with Hudson schools to provide education to students of all ages.

The school is looking to bring Rise Together programming to its district. Rise Together hosts three events at schools, for middle school, high school and the community, explained Hudson High School alcohol and other drug abuse counselor Kelly Hoyos. It is designed to give students the power to enact change with issues like drug abuse, mental health and more.

"They're really about empowering youth," Ingrid Blair, who serves on the Rise Together advisory board, said.

Rise Together works to connect the students together on the issue, so they can carry the message and create a cultural shift, Hoyos said.

"It will get our kids thinking and kind of stepping up and being there for each other," Hoyos said.

Blair and Hoyos have worked together to bring the program to the school. Funding, however, was an issue. With the support of the Hudson Hospital Foundation, the programs are now set to start fall of next year. Hoyos hopes it will become an annual program, if funding is available.

In addition to the Rise Together program at the middle and high schools, Hudson School District also has a Counter program for fifth graders. Hoyos said it's important to have education at all ages.

For Blair, the issue is personal. She lost her son Hunter, an HHS grad, to an overdose in 2016. He was 24.

"Our son was a charming, witty, smart young man and once he took that drug he didn't have a chance," Blair said.

She is now working to speak up and prevent the same from happening to other families.

"I don't want to see any other parent in Hudson lose their child," Blair said.

Though use on school grounds is not a prominent issue, Hoyos said the education is focusing on use outside the school, as well as later in students' lives.

"It's all about how we prepare kids for stressors that might be out of their control like family life, mental health, pressures from school, sports and the ways that we empower our kids when they're young," Hoyos said.

Oftentimes these stressors can lead teens, as well as adults, to seek what they feel will help them, and this often is drugs and alcohol, Hoyos said.

"We don't know and the kids don't know which of them it will trigger a bigger issue, which is addiction," she said.

"For me the issue is just getting kids to understand that they're experimenting with something that is deadly, and you're not going to be an exception to the rule," Blair said.

It's important that kids know how to access help, Hoyos said, and know that it's alright to do so.

"I hear a lot of parents of kids who are struggling with addiction often times reflect and say to me, 'I didn't know where to get help,'" Hoyos said.

Hoyos said she is available to provide these resources to both students and parents, alongside other education the school does and will provide.

Part of that education needs to include removing the stigma around drug abuse and addiction.

"Everyone looks at you as a bad person instead of a sick person," Blair said.

Drug abuse should be treated in a similar manner to other illnesses, Hoyos said, where the focus is getting treatment.

"I want the stigma reduced from addiction. I want people to get support," Blair said.

For Hunter, Blair said she does not want his life to be defined by his death.

"Even in the aftermath of losing a son or a spouse or whoever it is, the family is still fighting that stigma," Hoyos said.

Blair said she's glad to see the hospital foundation focus on this issue, as it has a piece in prescribing the medication and treating those affected.

"I love that the foundation is promoting education, particularly education to youth," Blair said.

Having new community members mobilized, and connecting different organizations in the community like the hospital, parents, schools, healthcare providers and police, will help combat the problem.

"As a community we need to take concrete steps to do everything we can to educate youth, educate healthcare providers, educate parents, educate the educators," Blair said. "It's this collaboration that I think will be the impactful."

Rebecca Mariscal

Rebecca Mariscal joined the Hudson Star Observer as a reporter in 2016. She graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in communication and journalism. 

(715) 426-1066
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