Success Story: Taos Alive: Giving kids a fighting chance

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Taos Alive Drug Free Coalition’s work to change how our community views alcohol and prescription drug abuse never stops. The goal–to create a safe, happy, and substance abuse-free life for Taos youth–warrants the work.

Since 2010, the local coalition has worked tirelessly to reduce substance abuse in Taos County through community organizing and coalition work. Taos Alive Coalition focuses on helping the people of Taos to not only acknowledge that our community has a problem with substance abuse, but also take whatever steps are necessary to create the change Taos and its youth so desperately need.

Not only does New Mexico lead the nation in alcohol-related deaths (one in six adult deaths in New Mexico are alcohol-related), but Taos County’s alcohol-related death rate is ten points higher than the state average. A staggering 4 out of 10 of our underage Taos County youth drink on a regular basis. Similarly disturbing statistics characterize the prescription drug issue in our County.

“Our job is to create change in the minds and hearts of our community so we can truly combat these problems,” says Taos Alive Coalition founder Julie Bau. “That means reaching all parts of the community that are affected, but particularly the parents who need to help their teens make better choices.”

Rather than sponsoring traditional prevention programs that work on the individual level, Taos Alive uses community-wide strategies that create change by affecting the local environment. “We are creating changes in policies, attitudes and habits, knowledge and physical changes like the placement of alcohol in stores to achieve results,” says Janie Corinne, the program’s evaluator.

For instance, the coalition has worked with Taos pharmacies to get a frequently-abused over the counter medication secured behind the counter. It also is part of a statewide effort to increase taxes on alcohol and assure that the revenue goes to local community substance abuse prevention, intervention and treatment.

“It’s not fair that our children are being pressured from all sides to drink and use drugs that can damage their developing brains and make it harder for them to live the happy, healthy life they deserve,” says Ashleigh Grycner, the coalition’s Alcohol Policy Coordinator. “By changing the environment in which youth are making important choices, we are working to give our kids a fighting chance.”

Big news recently for Taos Alive is that it has also become a member of the Outreach Department at Holy Cross Hospital. Taos Alive joins other outreach efforts like First Steps program, Cancer Support, and the Medicaid enrollment program in targeting areas of specific need in the community.

“It was a natural fit for us to be a part of the Outreach Department at the hospital,” says Bau. “Director John Hutchinson has taken the lead in efforts to reduce overdose deaths in Taos County by heading the Narcan Pilot Program, so he fully supports and complements our mission.”

Thanks to a full five years of funding from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) that began last fall, Taos Alive has been able to expand its efforts to combat underage drinking and prescription drug abuse on a number of new fronts:

• For the first time, hiring three specialists in each area. Ashleigh Grycner now coordinates Taos Alive’s underage drinking prevention component, Miles Bonny heads prescription drug abuse prevention, and Jacquelyn Cordova is the social media specialist.

• Developing a coalition in Questa so it can apply for federal funding. Hopes are high that funding will begin in September – and that similar coalitions will be built in other communities.

To supplement its long-term funding, Taos Alive is also applying for other grants. Ultimately, however, it will be up to the community to support this work so that lasting change can happen.

Taos Alive’s solid future has allowed it to continue its efforts to educate the community and local government about the substance abuse problems facing Taos’ youth, and to develop effective strategies to confront the issue.

One such effort has been the expansion of the use of an overdose-reversal drug called Narcan. When administered to a person who has overdosed on opioids, Narcan blocks the receptors in the brain and can save lives by halting the devastating impact of an overdose.

This month, Holy Cross will begin providing training on Narcan to first responders in the Taos County Sheriff’s Department. “Part of what the Narcan program does is challenge the commonly-held belief that all overdoses are from heroin use,” says Bau. “The truth is that prescription drug abuse is very often the cause.”

Although statistics on substance abuse in New Mexico are daunting, the Taos Alive Coalition faces them with optimism. Future efforts will likely include a strategy to limit youth exposure by regulating the density of alcohol outlets in Taos County and by placing even more addictive over-the-counter drugs behind the counter at retail stores.

“Alcohol companies are ruthless in the pursuit of profit and do not hesitate to target youth as current and future consumers,” says Grycner, the alcohol coordinator. “We want to change our community so that kids don’t feel like they need to drink in order to have fun, be cool and lead happy lives.”

On April 30, Taos Alive will sponsor the Prescription Drug Take Back effort, and on May 5th, the coalition will assemble a town hall meeting, Youth Think, on alcohol abuse and underage drinking, which will include community youth letting Taos Alive know what support they need.

“It’s like a boat with holes,” says Bau. “You can’t just plug one hole; you have to go after plugging a whole bunch of holes in order for the boat to sail.

Bau continues, “Although we may never see the full effect of our efforts in our lifetime, someone has to make sure that future generations are given every opportunity to lead a life free of disease, untimely death, and addiction.”

To get involved, contact Julie Bau. Everyone is invited to our four meetings held monthly.

Taos Alive

(575) 779-6853

www.taosalive. org

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