By June Krehbiel Special to the Kansan

Substance abuse is a multi-layered problem and a growing concern in the state of Kansas.

“The problem of substance use isn’t compartmentalized. It affects so many areas of life, and in our state this problem is much more serious than most people realize,” said social worker Debbie Gray, a licensed addictions counselor at Prairie View in Newton.

A new University of Michigan Ann Arbor–Penn State study, reported by JAMA Pediatrics and published the week of Sept. 18, states that 20 percent of U.S. high school seniors reported participating in binge drinking (traditionally defined as five or more drinks at a time) in the two weeks before responding to the survey. A total of 10.5 percent reported extreme binge drinking (10 or more drinks), and 5.6 percent reported even more extreme binge drinking (15 or more drinks) in the previous two weeks. Rural Midwestern boys were identified as some of the heaviest drinkers.

“Teenagers often don’t realize the very dangerous and toxic effects of binge drinking,” says Gray. “Prairie View clinicians try to work with referral sources and patients to address substance use early before it can cause severe problems in all areas.”

Many Kansans recognize the need for treatment, especially for teens and young adults. They sense some of the problems of those addicted to prescription, over-the-counter drugs, methamphetamines and other illegal substances. But state funding for prevention has dwindled, and statewide services are few and far between.

“There’s a lack of accessible services, which is very discouraging,” Gray says. “And there is especially a lack of services for teens who need to be treated for drug and substance abuse. Funding and programs for teenagers are decreasing, especially in rural counties that do not have a lot of resources. Often it is these areas that need the most services to prevent widespread problems.”

She cites other national research showing that for every dollar invested in prevention and early treatment programs, two to 10 dollars could be saved in health costs, criminal and juvenile justice costs, educational costs and lost productivity (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2012).

Prairie View has outpatient treatment that consists of individual and group therapy for persons needing to recover from addiction. It also has an inpatient Addictions Treatment Center not funded by state funds.

“Our treatment is holistic," Gray said. "It is a clinical approach that is based on research. This allows us to get to the root of the problem rather than just dealing with a single addiction. Understanding the individual’s background, their family, their environment, and current condition plays a big role in how we help people be successful in recovery.”

“Michael” (not his real name), a young man Gray has counseled, had been living on the street, selling meth. By court order he began treatment. He started treatment twice with no results. His third time in court-mandated treatment he starting having hope he could change. Through a slow process, Michael got himself out of his “drug fog,” into a respectable job and back with his family.

“People like Michael are used to the quick fixes they have gotten from using. But that isn’t the case in recovery,” Gray said. “To him and others, my counsel is ‘Hang in there. You can do it. Keep going. There is hope.’”