Opioid crisis hits home for teens

York County Libraries’ ‘Part of the Story’ program offers local teens a new perspective on the national opioid battle that hits home in more ways than one.

When Breanna Whitfield first found out about her brother’s addiction, she was mad at him. She didn’t understand. Today, he’s rehabbing in a center in Florida.

“He was always such a good little kid, but even if you’re a good kid,” she says, “you can still have problems. All it takes is one time for a so-called ‘friend’ to get you hooked.”

Breanna, a Hanover teen, says she now has a better understanding of her brother’s situation.

She was one of 16 students who gathered once a week at local libraries around the county for “Part of the Story 2017 – Opioid Addiction.”

The program, launched by York County Libraries took place at Guthrie Memorial Library in Hanover, Kaltreider-Benfer Library in Red Lion, Kreutz Creek Library in Hellam, and Martin Library in downtown York. The goal over five weeks was to give teens a well-rounded understanding of some of the tough topics affecting their world – like opioid addiction.

“Most people either know someone who is living through it,” says Susan Nenstiel, Librarian at Kreutz Creek Library, “or someone who is trying to deal with the effects of a person who is consumed by it.”

The big kickoff

When a donor stepped forward and wanted to start a program that would impact teenagers in York County, local librarians knew they had to think outside the box. With a goal to host a “Part of the Story” program for four years, each with a changing topic, this year’s event would be the big kickoff.

That’s why organizers turned to the newly formed York Opioid Collaborative, led by Dr. Matthew Howie, a physician at WellSpan Community Health Center. His guidance and expertise were key factors in structuring this years’ program.

“What these kids have learned is that where you fall on the addiction timeline skews your vantage point,” Nenstiel says. “Most of us only see an event from our unique point of view.”

The first step in gaining that 360-degree understanding was to read “Smack” by Melvin Burgess — a story in which two teens fall in love with each other and heroin.

That book became the launching pad to a much deeper conversation.

Valuable interaction

The libraries organized a special Google Hangouts – a video chat platform – so the kids could talk with the author and ask questions.

“Talking to him was very cool,” says Josh Lucas, another of the teens involved in the program. “He had a lot to say about where the story came from.”

Other weeks featured the Children’s Home of York, the group “Not One More” — which helped explain what life can be like living with someone under addiction — and members of local law enforcement. Officers shared how they, too, are affected by this epidemic, both in their social lives and on the job.

“The officer we met was very nice,” Breanna says. “She told us that she’s seen so many overdoses and talked about how they deal with that.”

To wrap up this inaugural journey, Martin Library hosted a Town Hall Meet & Greet. The Saturday event gave the teens the chance to talk individually with some of the participants, as well as meet some people who are embroiled in the day-to-day opioid battle.

From reading, comes understanding

For Josh, the biggest take-away from reading the book was that it turned what he’d always heard people say into something real.

“A lot of people talk about it; you know, ‘Don’t use drugs,’ but they do it themselves, or they did it before,” he says. “But, after reading that book, I just decided that I don’t want people in my circle worried about me using drugs. I’m not doing it.”

Breanna says she sees her brother in a different light now and has a better understanding of the addiction’s impact.

“I always knew addiction affected a family,” Breanna says. “But, really it affects a whole town: friends, friends of a family, businesses, the police.”

Gathering weekly at their local library has given these York County teens a new perspective on the problem, but more importantly, more confidence in sharing that understanding with others in the community.

Helping friends with newfound knowledge

“If I had a friend who was having drug problems, honestly, with my personality, I would probably just drag them straight to the center,” Breanna says with a laugh. “But, realistically, now I know that I have some resources I can offer. But, you can’t make somebody do something; it’s really up to them.”

“That’s the hard part,” she adds.

One of Josh’s friends has a family member who died from drugs.

“I was able to talk to him about it, you know, about not doing that stuff,” he says, “and I think it really helped him change his life. That’s pretty good, I think.”

Paid for by York County Libraries

159 E. Market St., York, PA 17401

Get good news in your inbox: Subscribe and we’ll send you the latest features as well as behind-the-scenes looks of our stories and why each story we publish matters to us and the community.