RCYSUC wants to empower Richland County youth, families and the community to reduce youth substance use through education, intervention, and participation. This is part 4 of a 7 part sponsored series around preventing substance abuse.
April Ward, a senior at Pioneer Career and Technology Center, is on a mission to combat substance use and raise awareness about its destructive consequences. Through her involvement with the Richland County Youth Substance Use Coalition, she is able to speak out about a topic dear to her heart.
Ward, who plans to pursue a career in criminal justice, chose this path because of her passion for helping others and making a positive impact on her community. She believes that careers like being a police officer contribute to the well-being of society, and it’s not solely about the paycheck but ensuring the safety of others.
The decision to join the RCYSUC program stemmed from Ward’s observations of rampant drug and vape use among her peers. Witnessing friends spiral into addiction, she realized these harmful substances have the potential to ruin lives, starting with seemingly innocent habits like smoking and drinking. Ward felt compelled to address this issue, believing that it is often overlooked and not discussed enough.
In 2021, Ward experienced a tragic incident that deeply impacted her perspective on substance use. Her cousin, only a few years older than her, lost his life to a drug overdose and passed away at the young age of 20.
“He had good opportunities to have a successful life and then he fell down this road of addiction. It broke my heart,” Ward said.
Witnessing his descent into addiction, Ward was shattered by the realization that her cousin’s promising future had been derailed by substance use. Despite the amount of support from friends and family, a good job and steering towards the right direction, addiction took a life yet to be lived.
“I saw how his entire life turned around from when he started vaping then that led to the pills and then the overdose,” Ward said. “I think his situation shows how it only takes one time to overdose.”
When asked about the importance of speaking out against substance use, Ward emphasized the extensive damage it inflicts on individuals and their surroundings. She believes that people often underestimate the far-reaching consequences until it’s too late.
“I don’t think people realize how much it really damages them until it’s too late,” she said. It affects your mental capacity, your financial situation and everyone around you. It affects everything.”
Ward expressed frustration at the lack of awareness and understanding surrounding substance use. She described it as an epidemic that affects individuals from all walks of life, including high achievers and athletes.
Despite occasionally feeling like an outsider due to her decision to abstain from substance use, Ward remains committed to her cause. She feels compelled to help her peers, understanding the heartbreak of witnessing the negative effects substance use has on their lives.
“People don’t realize how bad it is. It’s becoming an epidemic,” Ward said.
In the RCYSUC program, Ward actively participates in community events and engages in conversations about prevention. The program holds regular meetings where they discuss strategies to raise awareness, organize events and extend support to individuals struggling with addiction.
Ward encourages others to speak out about the topic. Social media has a great effect in today’s world and can be used to spread awareness and counter the influence of drug and vape promotion seen in music, movies and television shows.
“It’s as easy as having a conversation. You should be able to sit down and have a conversation with anyone in your life and tell them their substance use is a problem and it’s really affecting them,” Ward said.
The RCYSUC program strives to empower Richland County youth, families and the community to reduce youth substance use through education, intervention and participation. To learn more about the program and how to get involved, visit their website or contact Gurpinder Deol at email@example.com.