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Lambert High School student leads effort to address drug abuse

Senior says need is even greater during pandemic

Vinayak Menon

Vinayak Menon receives proclamation for his efforts on anti-tobacco advocacy in Forsyth County.

CUMMING, Ga. — Vinayak Menon got involved in drug prevention efforts as a freshman in high school when many his peers were still navigating the move up from middle school.

“I began to notice that substance use was a growing issue among my peers,” said Menon who is now a senior at Lambert High School. “It took various forms, including smoking, e-cigarette use, underage drinking and opioids.”

He joined the Forsyth County Drug Awareness Council with the goal of helping others, recognizing his community needed youth advocates and leaders. He now serves as a youth leader for the organization.

Over the past three years, Menon, a member of the USA National Debate Team, has spread his message of drug abuse awareness to thousands of people.

He recently received national recognition for urging Congress to pass laws banning flavored vaping and e-cigarette products.

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Menon’s megaphone for drug awareness also has the ear of the state’s top education official. He is part of the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council which meets regularly with State School Superintendent Richard Woods to discuss issues of local concern.

Menon’s most recent drug awareness campaign is targeted at home medicine cabinets where stashes of expired and unused medications often land in the hands of kids. His goal is to remove and safely dispose of one million unused pills in the Atlanta metro.

In October, Menon joined forces with the national Gone for Good campaign led by the addiction nonprofit SAFE Project to distribute at-home disposal pouches to U.S. households.

So far, Menon has distributed 3,750 drug deactivation and disposal pouches to local community organizations — enough to get rid of nearly 330,000 pills — and will continue the effort till he reaches his target.

The need for focus and attention on the opioid crisis is even more important in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Menon said.

“Since the onset of the pandemic, opioid and fentanyl overdose deaths in Georgia have dramatically increased,” he noted. “At the same time, access to services, such as treatment, rehabilitation and drug disposal, has been limited.”

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The CDC estimates that 93,000 people died from drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2020, up nearly 30% from 2019. Georgia was particularly hard hit with overdose overdoses spiking 36% in 2020.

Menon attended the Teacup Memorial Service hosted by Realty4Recovery in August and said he was impacted by the pain experienced by the individuals and families who struggle with opioid addiction.

He said he wants his efforts on raising drug abuse awareness to resonate in the community and bring others to the cause.

“I’m hoping that my message and the campaign that I am leading in my community can create the necessary change to combat the rise in use of opioids,” Menon said, noting it will take community-wide awareness to see meaningful change.