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Let's listen to the young

March 1, 2009
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Frank Lisnow, MEd, MAC, is a longtime leader in addiction treatment and a past president of NAADAC, The Association for Addiction Professionals. Yet the executive director of the Center for Dependency, Addiction and Rehabilitation (CeDAR) in Aurora, Colorado, recently was able to gain a fresh perspective on his work from someone with a great deal less experience: a third-grader.

Lisnow was vacationing with the parents of Christine Valeron, who attends Palm Springs North Elementary School in south Florida, when he learned that their young daughter had written a poem that was selected for publication in an anthology from Creative Communication. The company sponsors poetry and essay contests for young people that are designed to promote an appreciation of student writing. Christine's poem was selected for publication in the fall 2008 anthology “A Celebration of Young Poets.”

Here is the text of Christine's winning entry, entitled “Don't Do Drugs”:

I can be sad

I can be mad

But I will never

Feel bad enough

To do drugs.

Drugs hurt your body,

Drugs hurt your brain,

Drugs hurt everything.

If you do drugs

Your brain won't work

So you hurt yourself.

So if you do drugs

Only blame yourself!

OK, before you start worrying about how that last line might be interpreted, (reciting “chronic relapsing illness” many times over), Lisnow says he's not going there. He says it's more appropriate to highlight the positive than to dissect every word of the student's work.

“It impressed me that this third-grader would have insight into the problems with drugs, and the fact that she understands feelings,” he says.

This got Lisnow to thinking that perhaps the treatment community should do more to keep tabs on what children are thinking and saying about substances. “We need to know more about what's going on in their world before what happens to people later with the destruction of the disease,” he says.

Lisnow plans to enlist fellow addiction professionals in Colorado in an effort to highlight the efforts of young people. He sits on the governing board of the association representing counselors in the state, and he says he will offer some suggestions for an activity the association could sponsor. Perhaps establishing a young person's award would help broaden the field's perspective, he thinks.

“I think the more we recognize some of our youth, the more hope we have,” Lisnow says.

Gary A. Enos, Editor Addiction Professional 2009 March-April;7(2):6