What would you do if you discovered that your community’s drinking water contained traces of someone else’s birth control, antibiotics or heart medicine?
A concoction of drugs – including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, acne medication, mood stabilizers and sex hormones – have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, according to an Associated Press investigation.
The federal government doesn’t require any testing and hasn’t set safety limits for drugs in water. Even users of bottled water and home filtration systems are exposed. Some bottlers simply repackage tap water and do not typically treat or test for pharmaceuticals. The same goes for the makers of home filtration systems.
Contamination is not confirmed to the United States. More than 100 different drugs have been detected in waterways throughout the world. Fish and prawn in China exposed to treated wastewater had shortened life spans and in Norway, Atlantic salmon exposed to estrogen in the North Sea had severe reproductive problems.
Recent studies have found alarming effects on human cells and wildlife. Male fish are being feminized, and female fish have developed male genital organs. Recent research has found that small amounts of medication exposure have caused human breast cancer cells to grow faster; kidney cells to grow too slowly; and blood cells to show signs of inflammation.
Scientists are researching the extent of this contamination, but our government is hurting us by not proactively addressing the problem. I decided to meet this challenge head on to spread awareness and provide communities with a safe way to dispose of these toxic drugs by creating WI P2D2 (Wisconsin Prescription Pill and Drug Disposal), which is a teen organized drug collection program that is dedicated to keeping the water systems of the world safe from the irreversible damage that is caused by the improper disposal of medication. I have accomplished this by spreading awareness and providing countless communities with permanent disposal containers and incinerators, as well as through the use of mentorship to both adult and youth leaders.
When I started my program, people were disposing of their medicines by pouring them down the drain, flushing them down the toilet or throwing them out in the trash because this is what they were told to do and they weren’t provided any alternatives. All of these methods are seriously detrimental to our environment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that the sewage treatment systems are not specifically engineered to remove pharmaceuticals.
My goals were twofold: A) to educate the world that improper disposal of drugs contaminates our ground water, which results in deformities in amphibians and unknown genetic problems to humans; and B) to provide communities with a safe means to dispose of their drugs. Since our state and federal governments were not even acknowledging that this danger existed let alone trying to address it by providing us with secure disposal options, the impact was significant.
But then I discovered an even more urgent reason to create WI P2D2. Our medicine cabinets are now the new drug dealers. The prescription drugs and Over-The-Counter (OTC) medicines that we leave unsecured in our medicine cabinets are fueling the newest drug problem among America’s teens – Prescription and OTC Drug Abuse.
More people abuse prescription drugs than cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine combined.
Teens are taking prescription and OTC drugs from their parents’ and friends’ medicine cabinets and abusing them. Just read the newspapers to see police reports of home break-ins that report prescription drugs as one of the items stolen or obituaries of teens that have died of a prescription drug overdose.
To start my drug program, I contacted the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) the EPA and the Department of Justice but none of these governmental agencies were willing to tackle this insidious problem or help me with my project. I decided that I would make a difference by conducting a drug collection in my hometown on my own. This was a monumental task as it is illegal to collect or accept prescription drugs from someone and the cost to dispose of these drugs is prohibitive.
Once I worked out the details of my program, I contacted my local police chief and made a presentation to the city council. They gave me a standing ovation and even provided me with funds to start my program. At that point I made presentations to the local hospital, pharmacists, civic organizations, business leaders and schools to recruit volunteers and spread awareness. I launched a marketing campaign by creating my own brochures and flyers and distributed them around town. I recruited volunteers and made posters, had banners designed, and created funny and engaging t-shirts. The most unique and interesting way that we promoted WI P2D2 was when we created a mascot costume named, “Phil the Pill Bottle”. Needless to say, Phil is a huge hit!
When I discovered that a state grant was available to help communities start a drug collection program, I asked my town’s grant writer if he would apply and he said NO. I then asked a neighboring community if they would apply for the grant. They said that they would, but that they would keep the money and not share. I then decided, at the age of 14, to apply for the state municipal grant myself. Imagine my surprise when I won the grant and the neighboring town’s grant was disqualified. I then contacted both towns and informed them that I won and that I was splitting the grant between them. Needless to say, they are both my biggest supporters.
So far we have held multiple drug collection events, started programs in at least 6 communities in Wisconsin, hosted a free sharps disposal and a free mercury thermometer swap and have helped keep over 900,000 pounds of drugs out of our groundwater.
WI P2D2 has helped purchase several 24/7 drug drop off boxes for communities, engaged high school students to paint and decorate the containers, helped cities purchase incinerators to save on disposal costs, mentored teens and adults across the country with their programs, and has become a national model for teen-created drug collection programs.
Furthermore, WI P2D2 is the largest teen-run, self-sustainable, drug collection program in the world!
Currently, I am partnering with several sponsors and my mentor from Illinois and P2D2 is now in over 22 states.
My specific goal with P2D2 is to educate the public about prescription and OTC drug abuse, provide a means to properly dispose of their unwanted drugs, and instruct the public about how to safely store the drugs they choose to keep in their homes. Spreading awareness by working with local youth, volunteers, law enforcement, local, state and national government, teachers, businesses and civic organizations is the only way to save our teens from prescription drug abuse.
Spreading the word about prescription drug abuse across the country is my next step and I am doing this by making presentations and speeches at conferences (Safer Use Prevents Abuse Coalition, Family Ties/Children Come First Conference, WEA Trust), recording a Public Safety Announcement warning parents about this epidemic among teens, speaking to the media and lawmakers and am currently working with my Wisconsin lawmakers to enact a bill to help every community in Wisconsin to have their own program – cost free.
One of the ways that I helped inspire other teens is to create community service projects through my non-profit such as C4C (Comics for Change). I am working with teens, parents, children, teachers and businesses to collect and purchase comics to distribute to underserved youth to help them improve their reading skills.
The goal of C4C is to use the popular genre of comic books and graphic novels to motivate students to read. This is especially useful in hooking those reluctant readers that have difficulty going from picture books to novels.
Third grade is a turning point at which children make the transition from learning to read to reading to learn. Research proves that reading proficiently by the end of the third grade is significant to graduate. It is a tragic fact that one of four young people in America does not graduate from high school. A report issued by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed that the U.S. has fallen to ‘average’ in world education rankings.
Currently, only 69% of our local elementary school’s 3rd grade students meet or exceed standards in reading. This is extremely disappointing. The district average is 77% and the average for the State of Wisconsin is 78%.
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Wisconsin ranked second in 1994 on fourth-grade reading tests, but by 2011, ranked 16th. The state also has a significant gap in reading scores related to race and low income status. The report recommends the state require summer school for struggling students in early grades.
Right now our school district has the 4th highest percentage of minority students, the highest percentage of free lunches and the highest percentage of disabled students. To make matters worse, we have the lowest percentage of average adjusted gross income. Unfortunately, this all influences the reading scores, which are below the national, state and district averages. The WKCE reading exams for our school district compared to other districts in our area are: 56% for 4th grade and 28% for 8th grade. Our ACT scores are the lowest in our Conference.
A recent teacher’s union survey found that 18 percent of Wisconsin districts cut reading specialists and 25 percent cut library staff this year. The average middle-income child enters kindergarten able to identify 22 letters of the alphabet. The average low-income child can only identify nine letters.
C4C wants to inspire young people to develop a life-long love of reading in order to improve their academic and literacy skills. However, we realize that many children can’t afford to purchase a comic book, which can cost from $1.25 all the way up to $15.00 for graphic novels.
This made us realize how valuable and important reading materials are to some children who do not have ready access to them. Since we have given away over 1300 comics and will continue to give them away to the students that are in need, we will inspire young people to develop a life-long love of reading in order to improve their academic and literacy skills.
So far, we have been able to measure our impact by counting the number of people that we are educating about literacy issues with our youth (over 60,000); by counting the number of children we are reaching with our comics (over 800 at the fairs) and over 500 at the homeless shelters, libraries, clinics, hospitals, police departments, and food pantries.
We have already seen how C4C is affecting kids and their parents. The kids swamped us at the comic book fairs and couldn’t believe that we were giving away comics. The parents were so impressed and thankful. Many of them said that these comics brought back memories and they talked about reading the comics to their kids. Other parents were overheard telling their kids all the back stories on the comics.
However, there are future ways to measure our impact and that is by monitoring the reading test levels in our area (the Badger North Conference). Once we are able to spread awareness about the importance of helping those struggling readers transition with comics and share comics with all of the students that need them, then we can watch those reading scores rise.
Currently, our county of 60,000 is being impacted by becoming aware of the fact that our schools have low reading levels compared to the district and the state; and then be impacted by our program to address those low levels. Any community that works together to improve their students’ reading levels and reduce high school dropout rates will ultimately have more successful citizens.
Children with poor reading skills often: receive poor grades, have low self-esteem, have behavior problems, have more physical illnesses due to stress, don’t like school, grow up to be shy in front of groups, and fail to develop to their full potential.
Literacy issues with young children are very important to me because both of my grandfathers did not go past the 8th grade and neither could read very well. As a young child, I wanted my grandfathers to read my favorite stories to me, but they both had difficulties reading stories that were written for a 1st grader. As I learned to read, they both needed me to read the mail and newspapers to them just so they could function in society.
firstname.lastname@example.orgI will never forget the humiliation that I sensed from them and how I wanted to help them read better. I don’t want anyone to have to feel the pain that comes from the isolation and embarrassment from illiteracy.