The Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America held its 33rd Annual National Leadership Forum in January and Surry County sent members of the Surry County Office of Substance Abuse Recovery to learn from top experts in the field and network with other organizations working toward a similar local outcomes.
The coalition is a non-profit organization representing adult and youth coalition leaders through the nation who are “working to make communities safe, heath and drug-free for more than 25 years.” They have created a network of more than 5,000 community anti-drug coalitions that bring together public and private sector groups who seek to make change through an evidence-based approach to reducing drinking, tobacco use, illicit drug use, and the misuse of prescription drugs.
This was not meant for just the mental health professionals of the world but for educators, faith leaders, those in recovery, public health professionals, and members of law enforcement, all of whom joined together in forums that provided information and strategies to take the work of prevention to the next level. Simple networking with folks in public health or a school system in another state could lead to idea sharing that and collaborations that could benefit communities across the country, officials said.
One of this year’s featured speakers was author Beth Macy, a Roanoke, Virginia journalist who has researched and written extensively about opioid addiction to shine a light on the protracted struggle of rural America and those fighting the battle on its frontlines. Surry County and members of the community have featured prominently in her work.
Members of the county’s substance abuse recovery office from director Mark Willis on down have been telling county leaders for some time that the more money that is spent on prevention means less money being paid out for mental and behavioral health services, often at the county’s expense. Recently the International Narcotics Control Board said in its annual report, “Every dollar spent on drug abuse prevention can save the government up to ten dollars in later costs.”
At the leadership forum participants engaged seminars and classes based around community prevention efforts. In a presentation by Derrick Newby on youth engagement and how to build systems not just for, but with youth, he said, “to develop and support youth leadership in prevention that will support the development of prevention systems where youth interact with their community as a part of the prevention system.”
“A system in which they are not just the receivers of services but where they can have an influence while operating according to a set of rules and become a part of the unified whole,” the presenter Partnership for Success described.
The session “Getting Candid” presented by National Council for Mental Wellbeing (NCMW) provided a host of information that may be used locally, “The COVID-19 pandemic caused incredible disruption in the lives of young people… NCMW conducted four large-scale national assessments of youth from 2021 to 2022 and created a comprehensive, youth-informed message guide and suite of tools to help providers have impactful prevention conversations with the youth they serve.”
Taking information from surveys such as the one National Council for Mental Wellbeing conducted can help guide practices based on the responses they got from kids across the country. Feedback from such surveys helped guide session topics like “Keep Them Safe: Suicide Safety Planning and Access to Means Counseling” presented by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
“Suicide is preventable when we know what to do. A critical component of safety planning is the conversation regarding access to lethal means. Removing and restricting access to lethal means during the crisis period can oftentimes be the difference between life or death,” they wrote.
Their session will demonstrate that there is a “critical component of safety planning is the conversation regarding access to lethal means. Removing and restricting access to lethal means during the crisis period can oftentimes be the difference between life or death.”
Another session, “Taking the “Small” Out of Small Towns: Working in Rural America to Promote BIG Health Changes.” The presenter said the session will walk take participants through “the conventional, and sometimes unconventional, processes that must happen to take the “small” out of small towns by making sustainable changes toward healthier outcomes.”
According to the CDC, rural Americans are more likely to die from heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke than their urban counterparts so the presenter, Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living, have been working to reduce secondhand smoke exposure and the overall use of tobacco. Not all remediation campaigns focus on hard drugs: alcohols, tobacco, and vaping are reasons for concern as well.