Most children and teenagers begin leaning on drugs because they are bored, according to one drug-prevention official.
Peer pressure often still plays a big part in pushing individuals into a life of drug experimentation, but it seems that too much free time and a lack of parental guidance are the main culprits, said Ray Lozano, a drug and substance prevention specialist and youth speaker with the Los Angeles-based Prevention Plus organization.
"For kids, boredom is brand new to them and their brain doesn't know what to do with that boredom yet," he said. "Adults would love boredom — go home and have no one bother you for a little bit, right? Adults' brains have figured out boredom, but since kids haven't figured out boredom yet, they turn to drugs and alcohol."
Lozano will share his experience at helping youth via the Drug Awareness on Opioids and Prescription Abuse event from 7-8 p.m. May 15 at the Northside High School auditorium, 2301 N. B St. The free event is open to the public and will help shed light on how parents can play a stronger, more positive role in the lives of their children, he said.
"What I'm seeing is, people are really confused, and they don't see a resolution to the problem of drugs and alcohol," Lozano said. "One of the things I talk about is why kids get addicted so quickly, and I talk about ways to talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol.
"I give people a framework," he added. "People can apply that information when they talk to their kids."
Lozano also will make presentations to students in several Fort Smith and Van Buren schools. These events are the latest activities that stem from a partnership between Elks Lodge No. 341, the Fort Smith and Van Buren public school districts, the Fort Smith and Van Buren police departments and the 12th/21st Judicial District Drug Task Force, said Sharon Bollin, a drug awareness co-chairperson for the Elks Lodge.
"Ray also will be in the school systems in Van Buren and Fort Smith with the same topic, and that's exciting," she said. "The May 15 program that is for the community will give adults and interested parties a chance to ask questions, and to see what Ray presented to the kids in their schools."
Lozano is known to incorporate a few questions into his presentations that will help people decide if they or someone they know is an addict, Bollin said.
"Ray is a dynamic speaker; it's educational," she said.
The Elks Lodge's partnership gained momentum late last summer when Paul Smith, commander for the 12th/21st Judicial Drug Task Force, was nominated for the Enrique Camarena Award, Bollin said. Camarena was from El Paso and was "one of the very first drug agents" in the U.S. in the early and mid-1980s, she said.
"Enrique was working undercover in Mexico and was brutally, brutally tortured and sent back to his family," Bollin said.
After seeing Smith's name on the award nomination list, Bollin contacted him and Van Buren Police Chief Jamie Hammond to see if a drug-awareness partnership could be formed. Smith and Hammond both "jumped" at the chance, she said.
"It's a great partnership," said Smith, who has won the Enrique Camarena Award at the local and state levels and is in the running to win the national level. "This event with Ray Lozano is our first program. We hope to make this a yearly or bi-annual event, and this will lead to other micro-events we'll do in the communities in Sebastian and Crawford counties."
According to Smith, many children typically begin experimenting with alcohol and drugs between ages 10-12. These drugs usually are pills from the family's medicine cabinet, he said.
"Part of our mantra is telling families, 'If you have medication in your medicine cabinet and you don't need it, get rid of it," Smith said. "Most law enforcement agencies have a drop box, so that's a great way to get rid of it. Removing that temptation for kids at home will reduce the amount of kids who will experiment."
Between ages 14-16, some children move on to "harder substances and harder pills," he said.
"We hear daily, almost like the beat of a drum, from people — 'When are you going to do something about this drug dealer?' and 'When are you going to stop drugs?'" Smith said. "We all have to have a conversation with our kids at an early age. If we can reaffirm our effort and say that drugs are bad, we will reduce the amount of consumers of illicit drugs in our community."
Lozano said acting as a positive role model for children can be easier than one might suspect. A little time, patience and communication can go far with each family, he said.
"When kids are little, we tell them to not play with matches, don't talk to strangers and don't cross the street," Lozano said. "For some reason, people forget to tell kids about the dangers of drugs when they get older.
"One of the biggest factors for a kid not to use drugs is their parents," he added. "If parents would share that information with their kids, it would help. But some parents just don't do that."
Since 1990, Lozano has dedicated his life to conducting drug and alcohol prevention presentations.
"I just feel like when I am speaking to kids about drugs and alcohol, I'm underneath God's finger; I'm exactly where I need to be," he said. "I feel like this is my mission in life."
Lozano admitted that his "non-use background" has helped him connect more with children, teenagers and adults over the years.
"The No. 1 question I get from kids is, 'I bet you've smoked it, haven't you?'" he said. "I tell them, 'No, I haven't.' I've never smoked, and I've never been drunk. I feel like God has saved me from that so I can reach people."
Bollin predicted that many people will find Lozano's presentation beneficial.
"I've heard Ray speak," she said. "I can quote you the two seminars I have heard him do because what Ray says really sticks with you."