A hidden epidemic is sweeping our young people, and we in Belfast are not immune. Two in five Maine students think that using substances is cool. Over a quarter of Maine high school students report consuming alcohol in the past month. In 2011, one in five high school students had used marijuana in the past month, and one in seven Maine high school students reported misusing a prescription drug at least once in their lifetime. These statistics come from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

We, health care providers at Seaport Community Health Center, have been treating people with addiction problems since 2004. We are currently caring for more than 70 people from our area who are addicted, but sadly, our program is now full and no longer accepting new people. The need for more treatment programs in Belfast and in Maine is serious and compelling. Even more compelling is the need for prevention.

Drug use has consequences. Drug overdoses now kill more people than die in motor vehicle accidents in the country at large as well as in our state of Maine. All of these drug deaths have risen sharply in the past few years, and all of them are preventable.

Addiction not only kills, it also leads to impoverishment, criminal behavior, disease and physical harm. It is a drain on all our social institutions, including law enforcement, health care, our justice system, our homes and our families.

For the Belfast community to effectively respond we must educate ourselves. Real change is possible at a local level with community members engaging in dialogue from a place of knowledge. There is much to learn. What is addiction? Why is it so destructive to homes, families and society? Why does the United States, with only 4.5 percent of the world’s population and at the top of the list in terms of economic well-being, consume 80 percent of the world’s pain killers? Why do high school students in Belfast feel compelled to snort heroin, typically behavior of an advanced stage of addiction? What can we do now? How can we help our children and young adults turn away from getting drunk, stoned or high as their major recreational activity?

What we know helps is engagement and modeling by proactive parents and adults, giving the clear message to our children that substance abuse is not an acceptable option, that using substances to deal with life stresses is ultimately counterproductive and damaging.

Parents, know who your children are, and know who they associate with. Encourage involvement in a variety of activities and model balanced coping skills. If you suspect your teen may be using alcohol or drugs on a regular basis, ask them honestly about it, and seek help. Do not consider alcohol or drug use a normal part of adolescent development. Many young people choose not to use. If you can help forestall the use of alcohol or drugs in your child until age 21, he or she is almost assured a non-substance-abusing adulthood. Take the time to read the excellent suggestions about speaking to your children about substance abuse provided by the Maine State Office of Substance Abuse Services (www.maine.gov/dhhs/samhs/osa).

In an attempt to begin the wider community discussion about this insidious and expanding problem, Seaport Community Health Center and the Colonial Theater are co-sponsoring a one-time showing of the film “The Hungry Heart” (thehungryheartmovie.org) at 7 p.m. on Tuesday evening, May 6, followed by a community discussion. The movie will be free with a free-will offering. This thought-provoking documentary was recently filmed in St. Albans, Vt., a New England town with an industrial, blue collar heritage much like Belfast’s. The film will also be shown to students at our local schools.

We believe in the physical, emotional and spiritual health and overwhelming power of the human community, our community. Real change occurs when people at the local level become involved and create the solution. Join us on May 6 at 7 p.m. at the Colonial Theater for the screening of “The Hungry Heart,” and enter the discussion.