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Tualatin Together highlights drug abuse prevention programs

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Earlier this year, high schoolers on the StandUp Tualatin Leadership Team traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the national CADCA Impact Conference, where they discussed and diagrammed where youth marijuana use.

When people hear the words “drug addict,” the first image that comes to their minds is of someone living on the streets, someone outside the boundaries of their normal community.

That’s what Heidi Wallace, clinical director of the Hazelden Springbook Center, posed during a presentation at a Tualatin Together coalition meeting this week about the increasing heroin crisis.

But the reality hits far closer to home. Heroin and prescription opioid addiction are experienced people like “your teachers, your neighbors, your friends,” said Wallace. And, she said, it’s experienced by families.

“When you find out your kid is doing drugs, you are floored. You can’t think. You can’t breathe. You’re just crushed,” said Kim Palmer, who works with The Addict’s Mom organization and attended Tuesday’s meeting. “Often times, the automatic reaction is to withdraw.”

Palmer’s son was a student at Tigard High School when he became addicted to drugs. Now, she and others are working in partnership to end the stigma and instead focus on solutions.

“Addiction doesn’t discriminate,” said Wallace.

During a Tualatin Together coalition meeting this week, community members came together to learn more about the heroin and prescription drug abuse epidemic. They learned from Wallace’s presentation that between 2002 and 2013, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled, and that use among young adults ages 18 to 25 more than doubled over the past 10 years.

Next month, they’ll be taking what they gleaned from collaborative discussion to Tualatin High School during Tualatin Together’s Sixth Annual Community Heroes Event on Nov. 3.

At the event, Tualatin High students participating in the StandUp Tualatin drug and alcohol prevention club will hold a youth education training session with elementary and middle schoolers. Parents will also learn strategies to empower their kids to make healthy choices.

“Our message is absolutely prevention,” said Cyndy Hillier, executive director of Tualatin Together. “How do we help children learn how to stand up and say ‘no,’ under peer pressure? How do we help parents know when to start those conversations?”

The event, funded in part by a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Community Talk Grant, will offer childcare and Spanish translation services.

During their meeting, members of Tualatin Together walked to the Tualatin Police Department to safely dispose of unused prescription drugs that were sitting in their medicine cabinets — heeding Wallace’s advice.

“If you have prescription drugs in your house, get rid of them now if you aren’t actively using them for acute pain,” Wallace said.

Because heroin is an opioid — in the same family as commonly prescribed pain medications such as codeine — addiction often begins when prescribed drugs are abused or stolen from other family members.

Most first-time opioid users find drugs in a family member’s or friend’s medicine cabinet.

Community effort

As a coalition, Tualatin Together brings together counselors, student resource officers and parents committed to reducing drug usage in schools.

Tualatin Together surveys students to be aware of evolving problems. While 20 years ago, programming might have focused on cigarette use, today the focus is on marijuana, alcohol and, increasingly, prescription drug abuse.

Through StandUp Tualatin, students pledge to be drug-free and build a drug-free culture.

“It’s amazing how much the culture around it is transforming. They’re the culture changers,” said Hillier.

Members talked about a momentum shift taking place at the high school level. StandUp Tualatin began with four or five members. Today, more than 40 students at Tualatin High School are committed club members.

Tuesday’s meeting was part of a series of discussions about different drug and alcohol-related epidemics. During prior public meetings this year, Tualatin Together members discussed vaping and marijuana edibles.

Parents discussed ways to address deeper-rooted reasons why some teens are drawn to drugs, ranging from genetics to academic and athletic pressure to feeling uncomfortable in their own skin.

Many shared personal stories of coping with a family member’s addiction.

“I’m living it right now,” said board member Angela Pettit. “Because my sons have both struggled with addiction.”

Pettit said the experience has taught her that early intervention and boundary-setting is crucial.

“It’s about really taking a stand to keep them drug- and alcohol-free in high school,” she said. “And I think people are gaining more awareness now.”