MT. VERNON, Ohio—For nearly two decades, author and motivational speaker Javier Sanchez has worked with young adults about defining who they are and helping to determine what their story is moving forward. 

  •  The state of Ohio has been hard hit by the opioid epidemic, and in recent years, methamphetamines has been the drug of choice
  •  Recently, the Knox County Substance Abuse Action Team hosted a conference geared towards teenagers
  •  The goal is to reduce stigma and present treatment and recovery options

“This is that pivotal moment in their life where they are figuring out, you know, who they are, what they care about, what they value and how to live that out in their daily life,” said Sanchez. 

Sanchez recently spoke to youth from local middle and high schools at the 2019 Knox Addiction Conference held at Mt. Vernon Nazarene University.

The yearly conference is an opportunity to inform the public on what's being done to address drug abuse in the community and help reduce stigma as we learn about how addiction, treatment and recovery impact every life.

Mt. Vernon City Councilman Matt Starr says Knox County is in the midst of a meth epidemic.

In fact, those cases outnumber all other drug cases by three to one. 

“Two or three years ago it’s heroin was the big thing. Now it's meth. That's the big thing… meth laced with fentanyl. In Knox and Licking Counties alone, there are 63 thousand people that are affected by this,” said Starr. 

Data from the METRICH Drug Task Force shows the region had 145 meth trafficking, and 200 possession cases in 2018. Data provided through the second quarter of 2019 shows the number of trafficking, possession and new cases are expected to eclipse those of 2018.

Dr. Jim Sturmi, of Pinnacle Treatment Centers, says meth stimulates the dopamine center of the brain more than heroin, so a user can get hooked quite easily.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people who are addicted to opioids consider it a safe alternative,” said Sturmi. “It's so easy to get, and the methamphetamine that's on the street now has been produced by the Mexican Cartels. There are very few home-cooked meth labs anymore.”

Just in May, a yearlong investigation led to the arrest of three central Ohio residents—who were accused of aiding the cartels and supplying meth to two dozen street dealers in Knox County.

The real-world problems of stress, anxiety and trauma can be a lot to take in for teenagers.

Members of the Teen Advisory Council in Knox County are working as ambassadors of healthy, safe and non-violent relationships among peers and in the community.

“So many teens have gotten sucked into things, that are things that they never wanted to do, that they did it because their friends said it was ok and it was cool. It's not cool,” said Centerburg High School student Gwyn Sands. 

For Sanchez, the one constant he hears from youth is the pressure to be perfect in today's society.

But he says developing healthy habits in times of stress puts us all in a position to experience life to the fullest.

“Simple breathing exercises, smile—when you smile it actually releases endorphins, feel good chemicals into your brain into your body that make you feel better,” said Sanchez. “And when you feel better, you're more likely to make better choices. And then go to your source of strength, whether that's prayer or meditation or exercise.” 

Sanchez advises other teens to get involved, but he says drug abuse prevention starts with parents learning how to talk with children about those difficult topics.