There are plenty of successes to celebrate in the community's initiative against youth drug and alcohol use. But many challenges remain.
Two of the men who are helping to lead the fight against illicit drug use and underage drinking in the community gave an update on local efforts Wednesday, Jan. 18, in Delta.
The occasion was the bi-annual meeting of the Partners Youth Mentoring program of Delta, Montrose, and Ouray counties, and of its affiliate organization, the Youth Substance Abuse Prevention program (YSAP).
Delta County Sheriff Fred McKee teamed up with Montrose Police Chief Tom Chinn to give an authoritative presentation on the successes and challenges faced by the two agencies as they work closely together on the substance abuse problems of the region.
McKee and Chinn presented a generally positive assessment of the progress being made in combating youth substance abuse, while acknowledging there is still a lot of work to be done. "We are seeing (positive) changes, and we are making a difference," McKee said. He gave much credit to the work of groups like Partners and YSAP that are "stepping up to the plate," and who play an important role in the overall community effort.
But the issues of medical marijuana and of legalized marijuana are responsible for magnifying the difficulties for law enforcement in combating youth substance abuse, McKee explained.
He gave an account of a parent who was growing medical marijuana legally in the family home. His kids were stealing it and selling it to their friends at school. Such situations are extremely tough to charge and prosecute because the pot was being legally grown, McKee pointed out.
The backers of legalized marijuana, who are mainly well funded interests located outside Colorado, are putting on a full court press to get their agenda adopted. "There will be 14 different bills introduced in the Colorado Legislature this year dealing with legalized marijuana," McKee said. "It is hard for me to understand, especially when pot is still illegal with the federal government."
Chief Chinn concurred completely with McKee's assessment of the situation. "What is the message we are sending to kids? They see marijuana as legal, and we are seeing more and more of it with kids." He said his department is also seeing more prescription drug abuse by youth, and some newer synthetic drugs are also appearing on the streets here.
The youth substance abuse problems that law enforcement encounter begin all too often where the first line of defense has broken down. That line of defense is the family home itself, and particularly the parents.
Too many parents in the community wrongly regard young adolescent exposure to alcohol or pot as a "rite of passage" that they, the parents themselves, may have gone through.
"We are finding that drug offenders very often were introduced to drugs or alcohol the first time by their own parents," said Juan Gallegos, a county probation officer who also serves on the board for Prevention and Recovery Delta County.
Partners Mentoring of Delta Montrose Ouray has launched its own effort to find more effective ways of communicating with parents about the real dangers posed by youth substance abuse, according to Gayle Davidson, executive director.
While law enforcement, Partners Mentoring, YSAP and others are all working in their own ways dealing with the youth substance abuse problem, they have also been joined by one other powerful force — a Teen Advisory Board consisting of 22 school-aged young adults are volunteering on a regular basis to advise, befriend, tutor, and mentor peers who need social support to make their ways through the difficult adolescent years and make the right choices.
"Really, when it comes to the problem kids, we're dealing with a minority of them," Chinn said. "But legalizing everything won't make the problem go away."blog comments powered by Disqus