PUEBLO — "I was growing up in Pueblo, and I started drinking really young."
Toni Duran, a mother in Pueblo, grew up moving between Colorado and California.
"I would say around the time I graduated, I started using heroin and anything else I could find.”
Duran eventually went to rehab and stayed sober for 19 months, before starting to drink again."
“Alcohol is crazy because you could be fine for a year, and not notice yourself slowly fall until it’s too late.”
Duran is just one example of the ways that being introduced to drugs and alcohol at a young age impacts future choices. Yet, a statewide survey shows alarming increases when it comes to substance use among youth in Colorado. While the usage has not necessarily increased, concepts like kids interest in trying substances and their tolerance for usage among their peers have both gone up. The data shows a 33% increase between 2018 and 2020 in kids interested in trying marijuana.
"It's the cool thing to do, and who doesn't want to be cool when they're a teenager?" said Dr. LeAnn Sanchez, who works in a substance use program through Pueblo's Health Solutions."
Sanchez confirms that she's seen an increase in younger patients coming to see her, who started off using a variety of substances - alcohol, opioids, and especially tobacco.
“I even had little kids as young as fourth graders using tobacco. That was the gateway to want to experiment with other stuff. So, that ultimately lead to the alcohol use and 'I’m gunna smoke marijuana, then I’m gunna try other things,' ya know methamphetamines," said Sanchez.
When asked what could have helped her at a young age, Duran said she didn't have the answer, but she thinks keeping kids involved in other groups where they feel accepted can help.
“I didn’t belong to clubs, I wasn’t into sports really, so my time spent was really wanting to be accepted and be involved in the cool kids.”
Now, Duran is just over 100 days sober, and wanted to take the money she would usually use for alcohol and put it towards "something special". She took to Facebook, asking for donations of items that she can out into backpacks and deliver to the homeless. Duran says she wants to give the homeless anything she would have like to have had when she was living on the streets.
Plus, Duran has a message for anyone currently struggling with substance use.
"Someone does love you, and someone does care."
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use, you can access help from Health Solutions here.