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Drug Story Impact

Recovering addicts visit schools to show the real-life devastation of substance abuse.

Nine out of 10 people with addiction issues started using before the age of 18, according to the National Center on Addiction and Drug Abuse.

Leaders at the Minneapolis-based Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge hope to reduce that high rate through Know the Truth, a free prevention program offered in public and private schools that is helping to shape youth perceptions about the risks of substance use.

Now in its 10th year, the program was implemented in 160 schools and reached over 55,000 students in grades six through 12 last year. Teen Challenge International, U.S.A. is a ministry of Assemblies of God U.S. Missions.

Objectives include serving as a resource to schools by reinforcing health curriculum; influencing students by changing attitudes and behaviors and correcting misconceptions; and reaching the community through forums and partnerships with county sheriff’s departments.

“We like being able to give the schools and community the benefit of our knowledge and expertise,” says Mary L. Brown, vice president of marketing. “We educate students, teachers, parents, and community leaders on what’s happening in their own school districts in terms of drug use and attitudes.”

Brown says most students haven’t been educated about drugs beyond being told they are harmful and they should refuse to take them.

“That’s not preventing drug use,” Brown says. “We agree with those messages, but we want young people to have the benefit of hearing real-life stories and being able to ask questions of people who’ve said ‘yes’ to drugs, so they understand what could happen if they also say yes.”

Lead presenters, who are close in age to the students and have gone through the organization’s long-term recovery program, share their personal experiences about using drugs and alcohol and discuss common issues that led to their substance abuse, such as peer pressure, bullying, stress, and isolation.

They also help dispel the myth that gateway drugs, such as alcohol, tobacco, prescription pills, and — in some states — marijuana are safe because they are legal. Strategies also are recommended to combat peer pressure.

Brown says results from an anonymous survey given to students at the close of the program indicate a significant change in attitude toward drugs and alcohol.

Adam Pederson, Strategic Partnerships and Prevention director, says the program could have spared him much heartache.

Pederson grew up in a Christian home, but difficulty with depression, self-harm, and sexual identity issues as a result of bullying led to a three-year addiction to alcohol and painkillers. After being hospitalized, arrested for driving while intoxicated, and facing homelessness at the age of 24, he entered the long-term recovery program.

He’s has been clean for eight years and on staff at the organization for six years.

Pederson says the program also provides resources to those who may be dealing with issues such depression, abuse, and cutting.

Tracee Anderson, community engagement coordinator, is using her past to offer hope to students. She came to the organization three years ago after being in and out of jail, addicted to heroin, and four months’ pregnant.

She entered Life Renewal, a short-term licensed treatment program that is part of the organization’s comprehensive continuum of care that includes prevention, short-term and long-term recovery programs, and aftercare/transition services.

Anderson says the program restored hope and helped her overcome her biggest obstacle to getting clean – forgiving herself for the pain she caused her family.

Upon completion of the program, she gave birth to her son Jonah, now 3, and started volunteering with Know the Truth and other prevention events in the community.

“People need to have a reason to not do drugs or alcohol, not just from what a textbook says it does to their body,” Anderson says.

Word of the program is spreading and plans are in place to spread into other school districts.

Corporate partnerships are being formed, which could further expand it throughout Minnesota and to other states.

“We found something that really works,” Pederson says. “It’s not a teacher, it’s not a cop, it’s not someone standing up there preaching. We don’t tell students what to do; we tell them what we’ve done. We want them to think about the choices they have.”

Shannon M. Nass

Shannon Nass and her husband, Greg, are credentialed ministers with the Assemblies of God and live in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, with their twin daughters, Naomi and Charlotte. Shannon is a freelance writer and special education teacher who also serves as coordinator for Beyond Survival Ministries, a Christian nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading the gospel.