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Grant County Community Health Council and Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition hold Town Hall

By Mary Alice Murphy

At the Thursday evening Town Hall hosted by the Grant County Community Health Coucil and the Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition held at Western New Mexico University's Global Resource Center, participants held a dialogue panel members. Suggestions were made, and observations, such as a cultural component, were aired.

Panel members included David Leadbetter, Substance Abuse Recovery Management counselor; Amanda Cardoza, MSW, Kids in Need of Supportive Services; Cronn Chavez, youth, representing The Wellness Coalition; Kendra Milligan, Grant County Community Health Council assistant coordinator and member of the DWI Task Force; Kevin Flamm, Grant County undersheriff; and Bianca Padilla of the Juvenile Probation and Parole Office.

On the screen were the words: "Prescription drug overdose kills as many Americans as heroin and cocaine combined."

Razanna Robinson-Thomas, Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition coordinator, said out of Grant County in the latest Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey, only 30.3 percent of the respondents said they had a parent or adult they could talk to about their problems.

"The purpose of the evening is for you to share your opinions on youth substance abuse," Robinson-Thomas said. "We want to give a voice to the youths; we want to give a voice to the parents. We want you to propose ideas. To keep this a constructive dialogue, we want in no way to stereotype youths. We should create policies and services that impact all youths. We have a suggestion box where you can write down your questions."

The first question was: "Why does it seem like law enforcement doesn't make that many arrests in substance abuse cases?"

"Probable cause is needed for an arrest," Flamm said. "You can help law enforcement build probable cause."

Padilla said that possession of substances and alcohol is a top referral to the JPPO. "They are issuing citations."

An audience member said in Colorado, they are determining the impact of the legalization of marijuana. "Do you see it as a major issue?"

"We see it as a huge problem," Flamm said. "We already have a hugs problem with DWI. It will just make it tough to enforce DWI, if someone is under the influence of marijuana."

Leadbetter said kids are looking for justification. "I don't think kids have the ability to decide, because they will think legalization means 'they're saying it's safe.'"

Milligan said she believes marijuana use is already a big problem in the county. "New Mexico doesn't ask questions about lifetime use of marijuana on surveys. They ask if it has been used in the past 30 days."

Sgt. Brett Jensen, state police, said: "You do have a resource in Grant County for DWI. Me. I am trained to do screening or evaluation and build probable cause. I would make a determination of what drug the individual is under the influence of. The central nervous system is affected by depressants, such as alcohol, and stimulants, such as amphetamine, of which Ritalin is a legal form. Inhalants are also a problem, as are disassociative anesthetics, such as horse anesthesia, hallucinogens, and mushrooms. We do have resources. If an individual is stopped and if the officer thinks things are not right, he can put the individual through a field test. If the person does not flunk the field text, I would be called or another drug recognition expert (DRE)."

Cindy McClean, Grant County DWI coordinator, said New Mexico has a DWI coordinator in every county. "New Mexico is also evaluating whether to legalize marijuana. In Colorado, DWI under the influence of marijuana has skyrocketed. There is no limit for marijuana, such as the .08 percent for alcohol. I believe marijuana causes other problems, too."

A female audience member said she was overwhelmed by the number of youths being assigned to the JPPO and the number of them that were using hard substances. "There is no treatment for youths here. There is no holding parents responsible. If they had to take education, maybe the parents would be better role models."

"We have low case numbers, because we have more services," Padilla said. "We do have treatment groups for youths and their parents. We even take in families to take the course to prevent their children using."

The same audience member said: "As a community, we have to say, we need inpatient treatment and more services and resources, so we don't send them away and displace them from their community and their support."

"We do have a support program for before the use escalates," Padilla said.

A second question asked: "If there is such a large epidemic, why is it not publicized more and why aren't parents notified through the schools?"

Milligan said in the newspapers she sees lots of evidence. "In the schools, due to policies, you don't hear about the trouble if it's not your child. We need to create an environment where the schools interact more with the parents."

"The schools deal with the issues internally and administratively," Flamm said. "They have to deal with confidentiality issues. With law enforcement, once a criminal complaint is filed, it's public information."

"We like to hide our heads in the sand," Leadbetter alleged. "It will reflect on the institution if it has public problems. They hope they can deal with a few bad apples."

A male audience member said he has some knowledge of substance abuse and rehabilitation. "It can't be us and you. I prefer to think we can work together to solve the problems. Is there something more you or we could do?"

"We have to work together," Flamm said. "The citizens are our eyes and ears. It's not just to arrest someone but to help them become productive citizens."

"We have to take the ego out of it," Leadbetter said. "Don't forget if we don't work together, the community suffers."

"I see what law enforcement and the schools are doing, but we still get the 'Why aren't they doing more?'" McClean said. "The principal is not their parent. They already have a lot to do. Law enforcement can't be everywhere. The purpose is not just to punish the users, but also to help them. If youths feel like the community cares for them, they don't get into drugs."

"We have First Born to help parents," McClean continued. "Nowadays parents are so protective. Everyone needs consequences, so they can become resilient. I would love to see a good mentor program."

Cardoza suggested community partners could create a youth task force, which could be a start. "At KISS, we deal not only with youths, but also youths on drugs."

Robinson-Thomas said what she was hearing is why the town hall was being held—to hear suggestions.

A male audience member said problems that cause drug abuse are poverty, and not belonging. They need to be addressed. "We need to keep this conversation going, so we're not doing this again in four years."

A female audience member asked the source of all the drugs.

Cardoza said many come from the home, mostly prescription drugs.

Milligan said the DWI Council and the JPO have done studies, showing the youths don't get them from stores, restaurants, but from homes or through an older cousin. "Twenty-four percent of the students in the YRRS report had abused prescription drugs."

"Drugs come from everywhere," Flamm said. "They come from Mexico, Arizona, other states; they can be manufactured in the home; or they can get them out of a mailbox or grandma's bathroom."

A young female teen asked the question: "Where do teens get drugs and alcohol?" Then she answered it: "I've been to Cobre schools and Aldo Leopold, and, even thought it's a fabulous school, there are still drugs there, too. We give them to each other. A guy, who was in the car when a friend gave me a ride home, told me he could get me coke. Most teens get it from each other."

A man asked if there were anywhere where students could anonymously report what they had observed.

"I hear from kids that they don't want to be called a rat," Flamm said. "One aspect of the DARE program that works is putting police in the schools, so the students trust us. Students don't want to rat on a friend and they don't want to be bullied."

Robinson-Thomas pointed out there is no way for a doctor to report on another to say that a certain doctor prescribes too many prescriptions. "That is one of the strategies we want to tackle for doctors, and the same for youths. A pharmacist cannot even do it anonymously. They must log in and identify themselves."

A female from Deming said she works with a substance abuse youth group in Deming. "I have people come to me and say: 'I think my friend needs help.' At lot of the time, they are using substances, but they don't know how to get help. What is the best way to help someone?"

"The person has to accept that he or she needs help," Flamm said. "Until they realize they have a problem, we can't really help them."

Chavez said those who have drug or alcohol problems feel like they may be stigmatized or seen differently.

"What does it mean to get help?" Leadbetter asked. "Is there going to be a magic bullet to get them help? Some never accept that it is a problem."

"When you have real concern for a friend," Milligan said, "you need to help them. One time one of my children said a friend was suicidal. I reported it to the school counselor, who could look into it confidentially and help take away the stigma."

A woman asked if there were a drug-take back program in the area.

"We do have a drug-take back program," Flamm said. "Unfortunately, it's only sponsored two or three times a year. We are working on getting a permanent drug-take back program. A doctor in Las Cruces lost his license for prescribing too many prescriptions. Kids do 'skittles' by throwing a bunch of pills in a bowl and grabbing a handful and taking them."

A female audience member said she would like to address prevention and asked if anyone on the coalition was looking into what the research says.

"In New Mexico, every program has to be evidence-based or it can't be funded," Milligan said. "Sometimes, a program doesn't fit our rural communities. It takes a lot of money to get evidence-based proof."

Robinson-Thomas said the group is working on evidence-based environmental strategies. "We have selected 10. If they are implemented correctly, we believe they will reduce substance abuse. We want to raise everyone's awareness of the problem for the least amount of money."

The same female audience member said: "We know DARE doesn't work."

"I went through the DARE program," Padilla said. "Now they have to give comprehensive reports and have a huge data requirement."

"The government funds and starts programs," Flamm said. "As soon as the money is no longer available, they go away and blame it on the program not working. In DARE, I think we are preventing abuse, and we do it with donations."

"The state wants to give seed money, so a program becomes sustainable," Padilla said. "But in reality we have to do it ourselves."

"The DWI program is required to be evidence-based," McClean said. "We've been doing 'Too Good for Drugs' in the schools, but we've lost a lot of prevention money."

The site manager of La Frontera of Lordsburg, Edgar Gomez, spoke from the audience. "We have the wolf pack program. When we know kids will be drinking or getting in trouble, the wolf pack, a group of volunteers, goes into action. We identify role models for the youths in the schools and let them know what services are provided to give them choices to empower the youth. In the drug take back, one time we brought in 11 pounds, another 4 pounds and a third, 3.2 pounds. La Frontera does provide evidence-based substance abuse prevention and treatment."

Margaret Begay of Drug Court, speaking from the audience, said she wanted to mention the elephant in the room. "I grew up here. Now that I'm at drug court, no one is talking about the cultural aspect of drinking. I'm seeing the third generation of drinkers in a family. We are dealing with 19- and 20-year olds, who started with alcohol at 8. We have to deal with the families as a whole. I think the efforts are well intentioned, but the numbers are not going down. I don't think we're addressing the family issue and the cultural generational abuse and addiction."

Milligan said the use of alcohol is directly related to domestic violence and sexual assault. "Treatment and prevention doesn't treat the pain. People are self-medicating."

"We're here to discuss youth substance abuse," Leadbetter said. "A simple thing is to have a conversation—if you're ever in this position, how would you like us to address it?"

Karen Murphy, one of the representatives of Al-Anon, said alcoholism is a family disease. "Al-Anon is teamed with Alateen and has programs for peer mutual support for families and friends of those with alcohol problems. There is one program in Silver City and one in Santa Clara. We are trying to build an infrastructure of Al-Anon, so we can build an Alateen program."

"One of the biggest issues is that we need detox to dry them out," Flamm said. "We don't have it here and it's a big gap."

A female youth said a person might come up to you asking for help. That young person is less likely to go to an adult. "We need to work on targeting youths. We need to be on electronic media to get the youths' attention."

She said she uses Facebook and the Internet, but Facebook, especially in college. "I met three students I suspected were homeless, but we had no way to help them."

"We had a page at New Mexico State University, where students could post anonymously," Padilla said. "You could have the resources on that page."

Gomez said outpatient treatment is great, but once the person comes back to the same environment they left, they have a problem and go back to the same behavior. "I'm Hispanic, and I hear people say: 'At least, it's just alcohol and they're not using drugs.'"

A female audience member said for bullying prevention, one could use a special code in social media. "I still don't know how it will work. We need to re-evaluate programs to make sure they work."

A Hispanic man, said he had abused alcohol from the age of 8. "At 45, I wanted to die. Next month, I will have 27 years of sobriety. I had to realize and reach out. I was amazed at how few minorities were at these meetings. Reach out and with the right help, it's there for anyone who needs it."

Stormie Flamm, one of the sexual assault nurse examiners at Gila Regional Medical Center, said she was raised in the area. "I've seen drugs in high school and college. It takes all of us to be the parents' eyes and ears. I work in sexual assault. I see kids who have been abused by their family members and the neighbors. We have the Skate Park, Penny Park. Get them involved in 4-H."

A written question asked about the school policies if kids were caught with alcohol.

Chavez said suspension and probation. "If there are multiple offenses, then it's expulsion."

"If they are caught and charged, they get referred to us (JPO)," Padilla said.

Mary Stoecker, who works in public health, said several years ago when her children were still in high school, the first offense for someone active in sports or activities, if they got caught, they went through a class at school. The norm was a 45-day suspension of participating in the sport or activity. The second offense got them a one-year suspension, and the third offense, expulsion from school. "But not all kids get turned in."

She said her kids had to sign a paper not to use alcohol or drugs. Milligan said the policy was not uniformly applied.

"I've seen kids with the same offense, with some expelled and some on probation," Leadbetter said.

Gomez said he personally did not agree with school suspension if they're caught, because while they are suspended they will be doing the same thing.

"A family stabilization program is a community service, but don't take them out of school, because it will reduce graduation rates," Gomez said.

"For the past year, we've been taking the suspended students and we have a teacher with them and get their homework so they can do it," Padilla said. "Once they are expelled, there are not a lot of options. The school or a parent can made a referral to the JPO."

A male audience member said suspending is a really bad idea, because the parents have to think of a way to keep the kids out of trouble. "Teach kids that truth is authority, not that authority is truth. If you don't communicate with your kids, they will get in trouble. Law enforcement and teachers are the least qualified to communicate with the kids."

Robinson-Thomas said if anyone had questions or needed services to contact the Grant County Community Health Council or the Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition at 575-388-1198.

"We want to do this again to keep the conversation going," she concluded.

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