Substance Misuse Prevention

Millions of Americans suffer from substance misuse, which includes underage drinking, alcohol dependency, non-medical use of prescription drugs, abuse of over-the-counter medications, and illicit drug use. 

Substance misuse prevention work has become even more critical as America faces an opioid epidemic, as well as the increasing availability of drugs like marijuana. 

One of the aims of El Paso County Public Health is preventing and reducing substance misuse, particularly in youth. Preventing youth substance misuse not only averts tragic outcomes; it allows youth to grow into their full potential and lead happy, healthy lives.  

Youth, Fentanyl and Prescription Drugs 

Rainbow fentanyl can look like candy.

Most parents have heard of the potent synthetic opioid, fentanyl. Drug Enforcement Administrator Anne Milgram has noted that fentanyl can be found across the United States, is highly addictive and is increasingly being mixed with other drugs in powder and pill form in order to increase addiction.  

Recently, “rainbow” fentanyl has been found throughout the U.S. Made to look like colorful candies or pills, the drugs are potentially deadly. 

It is important for youth to understand that any pill purchased illicitly may contain deadly fentanyl. Prescription drugs, heroin, methamphetamine and other street drugs also continue to pose a risk of overdose and long-term harm to young people. 

Consider the following facts: 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

  • More than 760,000 people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose. Two out of three drug overdose deaths in 2018 involved an opioid. 
  • In 2019, an estimated 10.1 million people aged 12 or older misused opioids in the past year. Specifically, 9.7 million people misused prescription pain relievers and 745,000 people used heroin. 

According to the CDC: 

  • In the U.S., 107,375 people died of drug overdoses and drug poisonings in the 12-month period ending in January 2022. A staggering 67 percent of those deaths involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl.  

According to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: 

  •  9.5 million people age 12 or older had misused opioids in the past year, and 2.7 million people had an opioid use disorder.

Youth and Marijuana 

Teens’ brains are in a constant state of development, and studies have shown that full brain development is not complete until age 25. Marijuana can have a negative effect on their brain’s development and result in impaired cognitive function. It’s important to help youth understand the risks of marijuana use. 

  • Marijuana affects the brain. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical responsible for most of marijuana's psychological effects, affects brain cells throughout the brain, including cells in circuits related to learning and memory, coordination, and addiction. 
  • Marijuana affects self-control. Marijuana can seriously affect sense of time and coordination, impacting things like driving. 
  • Marijuana affects the lungs. Marijuana smoke deposits four times more tar in the lungs and contains 50 percent to 70 percent more cancer-causing substances than tobacco smoke does. 
  • Marijuana use is negatively linked to other aspects of your health. Chronic marijuana use has been linked with depression, anxiety, and an increased risk of schizophrenia in some cases. 
  • Marijuana is not always what it seems. Marijuana can be laced with substances without your knowledge.
  • Marijuana can be addictive. Not everyone who uses marijuana becomes addicted, but some users develop signs of dependence. The risk of developing marijuana use disorder is stronger in people who start using marijuana during youth or adolescence and who use marijuana more frequently.  
  • From the 1960s to the 1980s, marijuana potency was on average less than 2% THC. In 2017, most marijuana for sale in Colorado ranged from 17 to 28% THC, making it far more powerful and dangerous to youth. Source.

Learn more about how marijuana affects the brain: 

The facts

  • Four out of five high school students do not use marijuana. 
  • It is easier for youth to say no to peer pressure if they do not think “everyone” is doing it. 
  • In 2021, 13.3 percent of Colorado high school students used marijuana in the last 30 days. 
  • 63.8 percent of 12th graders felt it would be sort of or very easy to get marijuana if they wanted.

How El Paso County Public Health is combatting youth substance misuse 

Fountain Valley Communities That Care (FV-CTC)—convened by El Paso County Public Health since 2017—is an active community-led coalition working to prevent youth substance misuse and promote the healthy development of young people. FV-CTC utilizes the Communities That Care (CTC) model, a widely recognized model that guides communities through a proven five-phase change process for community-level prevention.    

The Fountain Valley is part of a statewide CTC effort that seeks to promote healthy youth development, improve outcomes, and reduce problem behaviors among youth through achieving the following objectives: 

  • Reduce risk or increase protective factors commonly associated with underage use or misuse of substances 
  • Delay initiation and reduce current use of marijuana, alcohol, and opioids among middle and/or high school students 

A new local resource 

  • In October of 2021, FV-CTC was awarded a five-year  Drug -Free Community (DFC) grant through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This funding allows the coalition to focus prevention efforts on two substances. Based on local data, the coalition mobilized behind addressing cannabis and prescription pain medication use among youth.  
  • The goals of DFC are to build coalition and community capacity to address youth substance use, and reduce substance use and misuse of prescription drugs and cannabis among youth. 
  • CDPHE: Youth and Marijuana
  • SAMHSA: Tips for Teens - Marijuana

Talk early and often with youth about the risks of using marijuana 

Talk to youth about marijuana to help them better understand the risks. 

  • Only about half of Colorado high school students think that regularly using marijuana is harmful. 
  • Youth who think marijuana is risky are much less likely to use marijuana regularly. 
  • Listen carefully and stay positive. Keep the conversation open so youth can come to you with questions. Knowing they can ask questions helps youth make good choices. 
  • Talking with youth about their dreams helps them feel more connected to caring adults. 
  • Keep your relationship strong. Let them know you’re on their side. You want them to make the best decision for themselves. 

El Paso County Public Health Resources 

State Resources 

National Resources