Viewpoint: Kids and Kovid 

By Steven Kassels

Let’s for the moment try out using the letter “K” for I want us to focus on how kids and young adults have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. 

A recent CDC report (Mental Health, Substance Use and Suicidal Ideation During the Covid-19 Pandemic) reviewed effects of the pandemic on different population groups and found that among 18- to 24-year-olds, 25.5 percent considered suicide and 24.7 percent reported starting or increasing substance use. 

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), one in four children in the U.S. experience alcohol or drug abuse in their family. 

And overall, the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health concluded that about 4.2 million people in the U.S. over the age of 12 received some kind of substance use treatment and 21 million people needed substance abuse treatment in the past year.  

That’s right – only about 20 percent of people with substance use disorders are receiving treatment. 

Nora D. Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health reported that drug overdoses are at an all-time high with more than 93,000 related deaths in 2020 – a 30 percent annual increase.  

She went on to say that to prevent young people from misusing drugs and to keep people … from developing substance use disorders, our nation must address the social and economic stressors that increase the risk of drug use … and other effects of a changing economy including social isolation and despair. 

Universal prevention programs as well as interventions targeted to the most at-risk families and youth not only reduce the risk of later drug taking and addiction but have radiating benefits on other aspects of mental and physical health, according to Volkow. 

To bring this issue home, in April 2021, it is reported that Hancock County has 4 percent of Maine’s population – but 8 percent of Maine’s overdose deaths.  

While a death attributable to opioids or other substance abuse may seem distant to many of us, we cannot turn a blind eye to the pervasiveness of drugs in our communities. For example, this past July an Ellsworth-based drug ring was busted for large quantities and distribution throughout Hancock County of methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl and crack cocaine, along with a loaded AK-47 rifle and two loaded semi-automatic handguns.  

Acadia Family Center (AFC), in Southwest Harbor, was founded over 40 years ago. In that time, thousands of people affected by substance abuse and mental health disorders have benefitted from the center’s prevention and treatment support services.  

During the past 12 months alone, 140 clients came to AFC for therapeutic counseling services. Unfortunately, AFC has not had the resources to provide support for everyone who has asked. The center’s waitlist has also been at about 30 people for the last 12 months.  

Prevention is at least as important as treatment. AFC is proud of its partnership with the Mount Desert Island school system, where we provide individual counseling services to young people and prevention education more generally to staff. We have long offered a widely admired art therapy program that primarily serves school kids.  

It is reported that for every dollar spent on prevention, taxpayers save $16 and for every dollar spent on treatment there is a cost savings of $4 in health care and $7 in criminal justice. To be blunt, we can “pay now” with expanded prevention and treatment services or we can “pay more later,” as the effects of untreated drug addiction and mental health illnesses result in greater costs to our societal fabric 

I am optimistic that if the greater community focuses on expanding locally available treatment and preventative services, many young people and families with substance use disorder and mental health illnesses will have a chance to recover.  

For the sake of our kids, let’s “pay now” by investing in easily accessible prevention, treatment and recovery programs in our disproportionately affected region. 

Dr. Steven Kassels, a summer resident of Southwest Harbor, is medical adviser to the Acadia Family Center in Southwest Harbor. He has been board certified in emergency medicine and addiction medicine and is author of “Addiction on Trial – Tragedy in Down East Maine.” 

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