Health and Wellness: Susan Parmelee
Health and Wellness: Susan Parmelee

Monday was International Overdose Awareness Day. An average of five people died of overdose every hour in the United States in 2011 and overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death nationwide, according to the Center for Disease Control. Sadly, most families deal with the disease of addiction and deaths from accidental overdose alone, receiving no support from friends and community.

On Friday, I had the honor of speaking at A Night of Remembrance, which was organized by a parent survivor of a son who overdosed, Jodi Barber, and hosted by Community Outreach Alliance. For my husband and I it was a humbling experience that left us in awe of the families that were strong enough to come forward to honor their lost children, mothers, fathers, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends. Neither of us could conceive how we would cope with losing a child, and we were thankful that our three children had made it safely through the perilous adolescent years (many of their classmates did not). These are the years when many youth start using alcohol and drugs and are particularly vulnerable to the disease of addiction.

The last few decades of advances in the study of the brain have resulted in clear scientific knowledge that identifies addiction as a disease of the brain, not a character flaw, and advances are being made in both prevention and treatment. There is a genetic disposition that plays a role, as well as age and environmental factors, which contribute to an individual developing the disease. We now know that it is much easier to trigger the reward system in teen brain development than in the brain of a 25-year-old. This is why the Wellness & Prevention Center and Community Outreach Alliance are focusing on encouraging kids to find their passion and use that passion as a natural high.

The main purpose of International Overdose Awareness Day is to raise awareness and reduce stigma surrounding the disease of addiction. Most of us have helped a friend or family member suffering with a health problem or a protracted disease and death. How many people have reached out to a family struggling with the disease of addiction? Sadly, most families feel they need to suffer in silence even after the death of a loved one.

Please honor those we have lost by spending a little bit of time researching the disease of addiction. An excellent multimedia site has been introduced by HBO, Visit the Community Outreach Alliance and the Wellness & Prevention Center San Clemente websites and to see how your community is coming together to support prevention for our youth and compassion for those suffering. And if you are one of the lucky few who have not been touched by the disease of addiction be very thankful.

Susan Parmelee is a social worker who works during the week at San Clemente High School in the Wellness & Prevention Center and at Western Youth Services. To subscribe to Wellness and Prevention Center weekly emails, send an email with the word “subscribe” in the subject line to


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