Local coalition aim to stop drug abuse before it starts

By Ryn Gargulinski: QCS

With products that include marijuana-flavored lollipops and the Japanese-made Kidsbeer, a soft drink that mimics the real thing and is advertised with the slogan “Even kids cannot stand life unless they have a drink,” it may be no wonder drug abuse starts early.

The New Mexico Department of Health reports that, like many health problems, addiction can hit before kids are even old enough to drink, abetting the state in having a drug death rate double the national average.

That’s where Quay County ASAP Coalition steps in. ASAP stands for Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention and the group is geared toward adolescents and teens to stop them from drug use and abuse before they even start.

“We do school-based curriculum,” said Susan Lease, project director for the non-profit organization that is funded by grants and donations. “We go to classrooms, collaborate with the teachers and encourage students to participate.”

Dick Tracy comic books are just one example of how ASAP reaches its younger audience, Lease said, with the characters using peer pressure to convince their fellows to dabble in drugs.

In addition to ASAP’s roving lessons, they have open hours from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at their Main Street office. Lease said students are welcome to come use their computers, do their homework or read selections from their RADAR library, which stands for Regional Alcohol Drug Awareness Resource.

With information on “How can you tell if a friend is using cocaine?” and titles that include “Denial is Not a River in Egypt,” the library is meant to increase awareness of the problems and dangers of drug abuse.

“Anyone is welcome to come do research here,” said Administrative Assistant and Prevention Specialist Mike Latham, adding their information encompasses a wide range of legal and illegal drugs — from alcohol to methamphetamine, from smoking to steroids.

“It’s the new thing these days,” Latham said of the drug meant to increase muscle mass. “Anywhere you have athletes, you may have steroids.”

Other initiatives orchestrated by ASAP include frequent drug-free and alcohol-free teen dances at the Zero Gravity Youth Center.

“We need a bigger building,” said Lease of the facility, which houses about 75 people. Latham concurred, “We’ve had to turn kids away.”

Other awareness initiatives include campaigns to support national awareness days, such as September’s Family Day that encourages parents to eat dinner with their children and the Great American Smokeout in November.

More acronyms speckle other ASAP programs, including TUPAC (Tobacco Use Prevention And Control), ATOD (Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drugs), and YEAH (Youth Empowerment Advocacy Heroes), where students meet regularly with the mission to educate others.

Incentives are offered for participation, Lease said, including $10 for each meeting attended, pizza parties and T-shirts and a field trip at the end of the term, last year’s taking them to an amusement park in Albuquerque.

“The best part is working with the kids,” Lease said. “They keep you young. One of the best moments is when a student who participated in our program came up to me and said ‘My house is better now.’”

By the numbers:

25 — percentage of fourth graders using inhalants
40 — percentage of students entering ninth grade who do not graduate
40 — percentage of high school seniors who drink or smoke tobacco at home
43 — percentage of ninth graders who first used alcohol in seventh through eighth grade
47 — percentage of high school seniors who drink regularly
50 — percentage of high school seniors who first smoked cigarettes in sixth grade

Source: ASAP

Call for help

In the county:
• Quay County ASAP Coalition
309 E. Main St.
Tucumcari, NM 88401

• New Mexico Department of Health
Abstinence Only Program “Mission Possible”

• National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information
(800) 729-6686

• Center for Substance Abuse Treatment Information and Treatment Referral Hotline
(800) 662-HELP