Before galivanting off to prom decked out in gowns and tuxedos, Lanier High School students were cautioned recently about the hazards of underage drinking from a paralyzed speaker whose life was changed forever by a drunken driver.
Jackson State University’s Metro Jackson Community Prevention Coalition (MJCPC) invited Dwight R. Owens to share his powerful, life-changing message, especially with statistics showing high rates of alcohol consumption among teens.
In fact, AAA reports that 33 percent of teens ages 16-19 use drugs and alcohol on prom night. After his tragedy, Owens now relies on a wheelchair. He recounted how a 72-year-old motorist slammed into his vehicle in 2005, leaving him permanently paralyzed from the waist down. Paradoxically, he details his “journey from tragedy to triumph” via his website “Still Standing.”
“There are no guarantees in life, and it can change on a dime,” Owens said. He pleaded for those in the audience, ages 16-18, to heed his warning. Now his mission is clear: “All I know is that you have to face things head on, put them in the best possible light and help others every chance you get.”
Parents and school officials must talk to children about responsible behavior, said Owens, who suffered broken bones, punctured lungs, a broken back and a severed spinal cord. He now works for LIFE of Mississippi, a center for independent living and dedicated to the empowerment of people with significant disabilities. The acronym stands for “Living Independence For Everyone.”
LaQuita Sims, prevention specialist for MJCPC, said, “Prevention is our business.” She indicates that the coalition’s mission is to “reduce factors that lead to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs use.” Therefore, her group is determined to increase resiliency for adolescents, children and families in high-risk environments in Jackson.
Sims said these measures are vital, especially when examining the following sobering statistics:
- In 2010, CDC reported that alcohol is the most commonly used and abused substance
- In 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation said nearly 3,000 teens died in vehicle crashes; in 2017, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 2,526 teens died similarly
- People ages 12-20 consume 11 percent of all alcohol in the U.S.
- More than 90 percent of alcohol is consumed during binge drinking
- In 2017, a Monitoring the Future survey reveals that 8 percent of eight-graders and 33 percent of 12th-graders drank during the past 30 days; of binge drinkers over the past 30 days, 2 percent were eight-graders and 19 percent were 12th-graders
Meanwhile, other strategies by MJCPC to curb substance abuse include prevention sessions using evidence-based curriculums and intervention training to bystanders. It also sponsors bimonthly meetings, health fairs, National Night Out, campus engagements, prevention messages, peer education and training, and merchant training.
For more information about prevention, visit MJCPC.