JOPLIN, Mo. - It's time to face the facts, no matter how scary they may be. Substances like alcohol, tobacco, and opiods continue to kill thousands of people each year. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, roughly 52,000 people -- including teens and young adults -- died from an overdose in 2015.
"Accidental overdose on opioids is passing other deaths, like car accidents, for cause of death in young people. It's definitely an urgent problem," explained Marlissa Diggs of The Alliance of SWMO.
Groups like The Alliance of Southwest Missouri are working to prevent these numbers from growing. And, they're doing it with the help of coalition groups in the area.
"They're prevention coalitions. They're substance abuse preventions primarily. That doesn't mean that's all they do. Really, our coalitions are just aimed at the safety and well-being of families in the community," Diggs added.
According to the CDC, one of the most harmful substances is tobacco. 1 out of every 5 deaths are caused by cigarette smoking -- thats 480,000 people a year! And, in the State of Missouri alone, roughly 22% of people smoke.
"I think the biggest issue, more importantly, is that we find more often around here that the age of first use keeps getting lower and lower. So, if we're trying to reach a youth by the time they're in high school, that's generally too late," said Diggs.
One thing that makes this battle more difficult is not being able to pinpoint what exactly is influencing kids the most.
"There's absolutely countless reasons. Availability, peer pressure, perception of harm. I mean, kids are just growing up faster than they used to," Diggs explained.
So what can the community do to help The Alliance and coalitions in this fight?
"Educate yourselves, talk to your kids, participate in any type of education that you can get. Any type of alternative activity you can expose your kids to that's healthy and safe. Just don't ever think that it won't happen to your family," said Diggs.
Diggs also says that if your kids were to get involved in something, it's best to handle the situation face-on. Protecting them from punishment could lead to more problems down the road.
As for the Drug and Alcohol Fact Week, there's a Drugs and Alcohol Chat Day on Thursday. It's a live online chat where high school students can ask experts whatever they want on the topic. For more information on the chat day, click here.