Category Archives: Blog

SafeLaunch: It’s Time to Face Addiction


The untimely overdose deaths of celebrities like Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Sage Stallone, and many others make headlines.

The sad fact is that for every Michael, Amy, Whitney, Phillip and Sage there are thousands of others whose deaths don’t make the front page. Every day thousands of young people are struck down in their prime while under the influence of addictive substances. Because the results of toxicology tests are slow in coming if reported at all, the cause of many “accidental” deaths is ever known. In the case of minors, the cause of death is almost never revealed. If we are unwilling to acknowledge or speak about the real cause of death, others will surely suffer the same fate.

Wired for addiction

Addiction is most frequently contracted at a young age, before the human brain is fully developed. Metaphorically, it’s been said that teens are “all gas and no brakes”. The prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for good judgement, affect regulation, deductive reasoning, and discernment is usually not fully developed until age 26. Furthermore, the brain develops front to back, from the reptilian part of the brain toward the frontal lobe, where the executive functions occur. Executive functions include critical thinking, analysis, and postponing gratification, in other words, skills that help us make life-protecting decisions. Just as young brains are wired to learn, they are also wired for addiction. According to Bertha Madras PhD, Professor of Psycho-biology and Chair of the Division of Neuro-chemistry at Harvard Medical School, “Exposed 14 year olds are six times as likely to acquire addiction”.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “One out of every four exposed children under the age of 17 will develop a dependency”.

Addiction is a disease that doesn’t discriminate

As with many other diseases, some people are less susceptible, but there is currently no scientific way to predict who has  immunity from addiction. Adding to the challenge, addiction is a disease which carries an unfair stigma. This stigma reflects on family and friends, and often leads to avoidance of honest discussion and disclosure. This avoidance helps no one; in fact, it hurts us all. People suffering from addiction aren’t of lower moral character or intelligence; no one chooses addiction. Children of all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds are susceptible.

Twenty-three million addicts and rising… what are we doing wrong?

Many believe that teaching “harm reduction” is prevention. Nothing could be further from the truth. This misguided approach might make sense if the disease wasn’t ready to randomly strike six out of  ten exposed students. But, it is. Today’s collective wisdom purports that telling students to “make good choices” is enough to protect them from addiction. It is not. Furthermore, another mistaken notion is that supervised alcohol consumption or use of “soft drugs” by minors is acceptable. Too many parents condone a certain amount of teen alcohol and drug experimentation in their homes. While doing so protects intoxicated teens from causing auto accidents, it doesn’t protect their brains from the disease of addiction.

More treatment is needed, but treatment is not the solution

It’s time for addiction to come out of the shadows. Addiction is preventable, but only if we have the will to confront it directly. Who among us doesn’t know someone with the disease of addiction? Silently ignoring them or their pain doesn’t help. Until we confront addiction where it usually begins, with students aged 10 to 15, we will continue to see lifelong suffering, and premature deaths.

There is hope for people who seek recovery, but treatment comes with a very steep price tag. Unfortunately, the majority of people who need treatment either don’t seek it or can’t afford it. Estimates of untreated addiction are as high as 82%, and the best estimate for recovery without relapse, even after multiple attempts, is only 10%.

It’s time to shift strategy

Continuing to focus 98% of our national drug control resources on law enforcement, intervention, and treatment isn’t the answer. After a 40-year “War on Drugs”, more than 3,000 Americans are still dying from unintentional overdose every month. It’s time to invest in and commit to preventing addiction.  Trying to eliminate the supply of addictive intoxicants is a fool’s errand. As long as human beings seek altered states of consciousness, there will be a supply of intoxicants to achieve that end.

Let’s stop teen exposure to addictive substances

Addiction is 100% preventable. If preventing children from contracting a debilitating disease that often leads to premature death isn’t our top priority, why isn’t it?

To find out how you can help prevent addiction where it almost always begins…
with teens, contact us.

Graphic: Addiction Starts with Early First Exposure to Legal Drugs

Take a serious look at America’s drug problem in this clear illustration from Families in Action.
Families in Action

CASA Teen Addiction Risk Graph

USA Today: Patrick Kennedy asks, What is in the best interest of our children?

An Excellent Read from Patrick Kennedy

(Photo: Frederic J. Brown, AFP/Getty Images)
SafeLaunch does not and will not engage in the 50-year debate about marijuana, but SafeLaunch is 100% focused on protecting people from addiction. In this opinion piece from USA Today, Mr. Kennedy, a Democrat and a recovering addict, states clearly that he is just as concerned about children’s health as we are. Read on…

We’ve all been learning about the cost of not caring about mental illness. The human and financial toll of our nation’s neglect toward the mentally ill is staggering. And directly related to that neglect is the cost of not caring about a growing public health problem: marijuana use.

There has been a lot of talk about pot lately. Discussions of tax revenue, health benefits, violence reduction, and individual liberty. But one issue got completely lost: the developing brains of our children.

It’s about time we start focusing on the rights of our kids, not pot smokers.

As states rush unwisely to legalize marijuana, will this president be remembered for reforming our broken health care system, or for watching the commercialization of a new, legal drug that threatens healthy brain development and the mental health of our children?

That means I don’t want another massive, heavily commercialized drug industry targeting them. Because addiction is a disease that starts in adolescence, industries know they have to focus on young people for profits. After all, if you don’t start using any drug by age 21, you are unlikely ever to do so.

Now we know why Big Tobacco marketers used cartoons and candy to hook kids. We are seeing the same thing play out in places like Colorado and Washington.

Already, candies, cookies, and lollipops high in THC adorn legal marijuana stores in Colorado and Washington. Never mind that the Poison Control Centers in those two states have reported increased calls for marijuana poisonings, and that kids are getting the message that drug use is OK. After all, it’s legal now.

In other areas of life we tend to rightly put an emphasis on children. We demand better education. We ask that our kids make healthier eating choices. We are expanding health care, including mental health care, to our young people. So how can we, in the same breath, be OK with pot legalization? The marijuana of today is nothing like the marijuana most baby boomer’s experimented with. It’s virtually a different drug.

So it is no surprise that the president’s own Department of Health and Human Services reported last year that marijuana is the top reason kids are in treatment. It is why I hear about the stories in my inbox from countless parents who are now penniless because they had to spend their child’s college fund on treatment for a drug they first thought was harmless. It is why I hear even more stories from recovering addicts who say, “It all started with pot.”

Thanks to a massive misinformation campaign funded by greed, the gap is wide and deep between what reputable science knows about marijuana’s harms and what the public believes about this drug.

I applaud the president for leading the effort toward reforming our drug laws and emphasizing public health. I salute Attorney General Eric Holder’s smart on crime initiative, which promotes drug treatment courts and other diversion programs for nonviolent drug crimes. We should indeed reform broken laws that disproportionately harm ethnic and racial minorities and the poor. But let’s not replace one tragedy of over incarceration with another — a public health crisis that will hit the most vulnerable the hardest.

And we must not abandon the interests of our kids.

Our country cannot afford another industry that glamorously commercializes addictive drugs, profits from harming people — especially children — and expects the rest of us to pick up the tab for users’ health care and all of the social problems they cause. For every $1 we collect from state and federal taxes on alcohol and tobacco, we spend $10 to address problems stemming from their use. There is no reason to believe marijuana will pay for itself, either.

And the last time I checked, beer and cigarettes — two legal, highly addictive drugs — were pretty easy for kids to get.

Our nation’s future is in the brains of our youth, and they’re getting the shaft — again. Our marijuana debate has been entirely too focused on accommodating drug-using adults, the vast majority of whom would have to admit they first picked up their substance of choice when they were only kids. Their recreational good times have overshadowed our obligations to protect children from drugs.

This is by careful design because so many of the people eager to profit from addiction know the United States’ sentiments about marijuana would change dramatically if we started policy debates with this question: “What is in the best interests of our children?”

I’ll take the best interest of kids over the pot users’ interests — any day.

Patrick Kennedy is a former congressman and an honorary board member of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (Project SAM).