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Working with schools to raise drug abuse awareness

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GRAHAM COUNTY — Law enforcement is not alone in the county’s fight against drug abuse. Standing with them are local groups, such as the Graham County Substance Abuse Coalition.

“We’re very busy in the community,” said Kathy Grimes, the coalition’s director.

Illegal drugs

“One of our biggest issues that we’re looking at today is drugged driving,” she said. “That may be using prescription drugs, marijuana, heroin — any of those. We help to sponsor training for our law enforcement officers so that they can detect drugged driving. DPS trainers come in and train the officers, and we support that by buying their supplies and helping to put that on for them.”

The coalition’s primary focus so far has been on drugs other than heroin.

“The grants that we’ve applied for and received do not target heroin,” Grimes said. “That doesn’t mean that we won’t start targeting heroin through other avenues; it could be through other grant funding that we pursue. We do have some information on heroin and opioids that we pass out at some of our health fairs and different activities. We are willing to research information for people if they are looking for specifics.”

Family communication is a key component of its efforts.

“It’s not specific to heroin, but as a coalition, we have tools that we use at health fairs or community events where we can provide information for parents on how to talk to their kids,” Grimes said. “Our biggest push is for parents to be talking to their kids every single day. We encourage parents to spend time with their kids, know whom they’re hanging around with, talk to them about the risks of drugs and alcohol use.

The coalition also works to raise awareness early.

Graham County Substance Abuse Coalition

“We work in the schools with our fourth- and fifth-grade students, and we provide them with two different curriculums. For the fourth grade it’s ‘Keep a Clear Mind.’ The five areas it covers are alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, making good choices and prescription drug abuse. It has information that the parent and child discuss together; then they send a form back letting us know that they did talk about it. The final piece of that is ‘Mealtime, Family Time.’ It’s a great time for families to connect, to talk to each other about what happened during the day,” she said.

The lessons of “Keep a Clear Mind” are based on a social skills training model and designed to help children develop specific skills to refuse and avoid “gateway” drugs. They also help parents become effective drug educators.

“For the fifth-grade students, we have our ‘Be a Winner’ program,” Grimes said. “It’s a lot like the DARE program, where we go in and we teach a 45-minute class. We talk to them about communication and self-esteem; we give them information about drugs and alcohol. We teach resistance strategies, ways to say ‘No’ not only to drugs and alcohol but to other pressures that they may have going on in their lives. The final piece is taking a booklet home to their parents to discuss everything that they’ve learned.

“When it comes to sixth-grade students, the coalition partners with different agencies, primarily the probation department and the Students Against Destructive Decisions group,” she continued. “We go to every school and we provide a two-hour educational presentation — a judge comes in oftentimes, or probation comes in and talks to the kids on the consequences of using drugs and alcohol.

“This year, we were focusing in on the teen brain and the risks of using drugs and alcohol, especially before their brain is fully matured when they’re 25 years old. Then we talk to them about the positives of staying drug- and alcohol-free, the things that they can achieve through their life if they stay drug- and alcohol-free.”

This is the fourth in a multipart series on heroin in the Gila Valley. See Part 5 in the Aug. 15 edition of Eastern Arizona Courier.

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