My Turn: MATForce dedicates 2010 to prescription drug abuse

Cities and towns throughout Yavapai County are experiencing an alarming new trend. Recently, several area youth have overdosed on prescription drugs or by combining alcohol with prescription pill-popping – a practice called “skittles parties.” Two young adults lost their lives due to this lethal combination.

With this in mind, MATForce is devoting 2010 to a new campaign to heighten awareness about the dangers of this practice. Our goal is to bring the same kind of awareness to the dangers of prescription drug abuse and combining pills with alcohol that we so successfully brought to the methamphetamine problem.

In 2006, MATForce volunteers united over the methamphetamine epidemic. By organizing at a grass roots level and addressing the problem from multiple angles – not just law enforcement alone – we have experienced unprecedented success.

Our success was recognized at the national level when we were recently awarded the 2009 Coalition of Excellence Award by CADCA, Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America.

Today, first-time users of meth are dramatically down. Our residents know to simply stay away from this destructive, pernicious drug. Would-be dealers know to keep their poison off the streets of Yavapai County or face mandatory lengthy prison sentences. As a result, Yavapai County experienced an unprecedented drop in felony crime of 30% between 2007 through the end of 2009

That is the great news. The bad news is that prescription drug abuse is on the rise.

The Arizona Youth Survey, a biannual survey conducted statewide of Arizona’s students, shows MATForce’s efforts in developing community resources have led to reductions in student abuse of alcohol, binge drinking, marijuana, and methamphetamine.

However, the Survey found that student abuse of prescription drugs has risen to a point of true concern. The survey found strong increases in abuse of prescription drugs from 2006 to 2008 by all three grades - 8th, 10th and 12th grades. Discussions with students reveal that many of them consider illicit prescription drugs safer than illegal drugs. The evidence all around us, the tragic loss of young lives, tells us otherwise.

Students often lack awareness of prescription drug side effects and the damaging effects of combining drugs with alcohol. MATForce recognizes this trend in student drug use and now offers educational programs to inform students about the realistic risks in taking prescription drugs. MATForce also implemented Dump the Drug events and supports area police departments in prescription drug take-back programs due to these trends.

Over the next year, MATForce will focus on identifying prevention and intervention strategies for youth prescription drug abuse and the practice of combining alcohol with these drugs. We will be reminding readers and the public, again and again, not to be your child’s drug dealer. Unlike methamphetamine and marijuana that are illegally grown or manufactured, prescription drugs legally come from the pharmacies to the home environment. Time and again, our students tell us they secreted the illicit prescription drugs from the home medicine cabinet or from grandma’s house. The only ones who can interrupt kids’ access to prescription drugs are you.

Today, you will find the “Truth or Dare” newsletter inserted in your paper. The insert gives parents information they need on drugs abused by youth, such as inhalants, prescription medication, “club” drugs, cocaine, methamphetamine and alcohol. The pamphlet talks about the dilemmas and fears of parents, and offers useful tips on how to talk to our kids. The “Truth or Dare” cover page was created by Jillian Eisenga, high school student from American Heritage Academy in Cottonwood. Jillian’s entry received first place in the “2009 MATForce Poster Contest.”

April is Substance Abuse Awareness Month. The public is also invited to the free MATForce Mixer on Tuesday, April 27, from 3:30 to 5:30 at the Prescott Resort. There, the public will be updated on the more than 52 projects underway by MATForce workgroups and will view the winning entries of the MATForce Youth Video Contest spreading an anti-substance abuse message.

For more information on MATForce, visit www.matforce.org. For additional information on talking to children on the dangers of drugs and alcohol, visit the Partnership for a Drug Free America Web site at www.timetotalk.org.

Sheila Polk is the Yavapai County Attorney.

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