Drugs and alcohol have been around for centuries, and most agree that neither is going anywhere anytime in the near future. How to reasonably regulate drugs and prevent youth from ever beginning to use them will be a conundrum future generations will have to deal with.
The social acceptability of alcohol and drugs isn't going to change anytime soon, either.
"If I knew how to change that, I'd be ahead of the game," said Tim Brurud, director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line.
"It takes a very long time," Krista Solomon, the club's executive director, said in agreement. "We may never, in our prevention work, see that attitude shift."
At the club, several prevention programs are in place to keep children on positive paths, including summer camps and programs designed to foster peer relationships.
Brurud said he supports in the prevention work the club does "because I truly believe that what we do can make a difference in some these kids," he said, adding that there are numerous success stories.
By preventing children from ever starting to use drugs and alcohol, the club contends, instances of injuries, death, teenage pregnancies, suicides and other associated problems will decrease.
School drop-out rates and teen pregnancy rates are high in Havre, Brurud said.
"And I think those tie together" with drugs and alcohol, he said.
Education also is key to preventing initial use of drugs and alcohol, Brurud and Solomon said.
Many don't understand the consequences of drugs, which include death, they said.
Educating children and parents about the risks "and trying to get kids involved, less idle time, more caring adults in their lives" will help prevent drug use, Solomon said.
Creating positive relationships between youth and their peers and mentors helps raise their self-esteem, they said, helping children to make better decisions because of less peer pressure.
People are becoming more aware of the risks and negative affects of alcohol abuse.
"The thing that I see the most is that there's just more media," said Terry Hanson, Hill County program officer for the Montana Community Change Project. And more people are realizing that alcohol-related crimes and crashes are costly for entire communities, not just individuals.
Alcohol-related crashes per capita cost $200 per person, she said.
"Everyone bears the burden of that cost," she added.
Traffic crash fatalities because of people driving under the influence are connected back to other alcohol-related incidents, she said.
"And we haven't really been looking at that in the past," she added.
Things like compliance checks to ensure that bars and drinking establishments are not serving minors can help regulate underage drinking, she said.
"Unfortunately, there's not just one thing you can do to make it all better," Brurud said.
Overall, area experts concurred that the signs that children are becoming involved with drugs and alcohol include:
• A shift in their attitude;
• A difference in school performance;
• A change in friends; and
• An alteration of general habits.
To enable teens to make positive decisions that will lead to healthy lives, parents should stay involved and maintain open communication with their sons and daughters, they agree.
Be a parent and disciplinarian before trying to be friends with children; know who their friends are; and get them tested if it is suspected they are involved with drugs and alcohol, they said.
Two women share their stories
Prescription drug issues
At the age of 32, Shea Pomeroy was struggling to turn his life around, trying to break himself of a dependency on pain pills.
"Shea always had an addiction problem," his mother Lois Pomeroy said, but he had recovered before. When his doctor prescribed Shea with narcotics to help with side-effects of his cancer treatments, it was like going from the frying pan to the fire, she said.
In her last conversation with her son three days before his death in April 2007, Pomeroy said that Shea said he wanted to get clean.
"He wanted to live life to its fullest," she said about her son, who she described as a loving, loyal and compassionate father; a talented song writer and musician; and a handsome, intelligent man who loved life and always had an infectious smile on his face.
Pomeroy said his death has prompted her to speak publicly about the dangers of prescription medications.
His doctor prescribed methadone for him as a cost-effective alternative to more expensive name-brand drugs like oxycontin.
However, the drug builds in the system, she said, and even if the correct dosage is taken as prescribed, an overdose is possible because of the amount of the drug that stays in the system for long periods of time.
"I was devastated," she said about how she felt after she learned of Shea's death. But she said she gains comfort in knowing that her son was religiously saved.
"I ultimately know that I will see him again," she said.
In the meantime, she spends time sharing her family's story with area residents. When she was first approached about talking about Shea's life and what happened, Pomeroy said, she wasn't sure that she wanted to do it, but then she realized that maybe people needed to hear the message one more time.
"My whole purpose in this journey I am on is truly to educate and warn people about how absolutely dangerous methadone can be," she said.
"I think it also helps me make some sense of Shea's death," she added.
She said she worries that people, especially children, don't realize how dangerous the drug is.
"I believe that we have a serious problem," she said about prescription drug abuse.
Stronger controls need to be in place to make sure that people only receive the intended prescription and can't get additional pills by doing things like filling the same prescription at multiple pharmacies, she said.
And people need to be educated about prescription drugs and the dangers that come along with their use, she said.
Her advice to parents: "Take immediate action," she said.
"Today is the day to do something about it because tomorrow may never come."
Huffing leads to tragedy
Levi Lund's angry outbursts, nausea, heart pain and eye issues made him and his mother, Connie Lund, think that something was wrong. The symptoms sparked visits to doctors and specialists, but nothing came from the examinations and tests.
Since the age of 13, Levi struggled with a form of arthritis that was fusing his joints together and causing extreme pain.
However, he had been trying to fight the arthritis' onslaught with healthy measures, refusing even to take pain pills.
"We believe totally that he didn't know those were side effects of huffing," Connie said, and neither did she and her husband, Larry Lund, until Levi was discovered dead in his apartment af the age of 24.
"It was shocking," Connie said about learning of her son's death caused by his huffing of nitrous oxide.
Levi had been getting worse and worse about answering his phone, she said, and so his body wasn't found for at least a week after his death.
Hundreds of catridges of nitrous oxide were found in Levi's apartment, she said, and it was determined that he had been buying them online.
Levi had experienced drug and alcohol issues in his youth, Connie said, but he was past those and had become a health nut.
"Levi was clean as a whistle.
There was no doubt in my mind," said Connie The signs were all there, pointing to the fact that Levi was huffing, she said, from the health issues to his behavior.
The family attributed the problems to his medical condition, though, or to another medical condition that just hadn't been diagnosed, yet, she added.
"It was crescendoing into huge (issues)," she said.
"We'd just literally throw him out of the house and fear for our lives, he had changed so much," she said.
Instead of dying from huffing, Levi should have lived a full life, she said.
"He was just looking forward to a life of misery, is how he felt," she said.
Even with the pain, Levi experienced because of his medical condition, the reason for his decision to turn to huffing is unknown.
"It's just a guessing game," Connie said.
Initially, Connie said the family decided not to share the cause of Levi's death with anyone.
Now, she's talking out, she said, because living a lie doesn't help anyone, and she wishes she had known more about huffing.
"I want these young people and adults ... to know they're not invincible." She said.
And so she shares Levi's story.
"He wasn't stupid, but (huffing) outsmarted him and took his life," she said.
Most parents wouldn't expect something like it, "because, of course, my kid wouldn't huff, that's filthy," she said.
Often people want to blame the parents when something happens involving drugs, she said. While parenting skills are important, "your kids can make choices when you're not there."
Regardless, "we should not judge one another, and we should be open and willing to talk about it because it helps everybody," she said.
It's only natural to question if he is at least partially to blame, Levi's father Larry Lund said, but in the end he realizes that there's nothing he could have done.
Now he stays busy with work and surrounds himself with family and friends to help ease some of the pain.
Connie, too, said she struggles with Levi's death and wishes that she had known he was huffing because of the possibility that she could have helped save his life.
"You know, you can't beat yourself up forever," she said, adding that her grief is gradually easing.
She has begun riding her motorcycle again, after not riding it for the first year after Levi died.
"I didn't think I was ready to have that much fun," she said.
"It all just takes time."