Crescenta Valley stakeholders discuss preventing teen drug use

Illegal drug and alcohol use among youth in the greater Glendale area — and the question of how to effectively combat it — drew dozens of local community leaders and health professionals to Verdugo Hills Hospital Friday where they exchanged strategies and goals.

The community forum, hosted by the Crescenta Valley Drug and Alcohol Prevention Coalition, was devised to inject a new sense of urgency into combating substance abuse among teens, organizers said.

Objectives included identifying data sources that can help shape programming and intervention efforts, and convening community partners that might be able to share best practices and pool resources. Those in attendance included law enforcement, Glendale Unified officials, mental and behavioral health professionals and substance abuse experts.

They plan to reconvene sometime next month.

“I really encourage all our sectors to go back to your own areas and work with other people within you same parallel sector and come back together in our coalition to help us move forward,” said Glendale Police Officer Matt Zakarian, who also serves as chairman of the coalition’s board.

The Crescenta Valley Drug and Alcohol Prevention Coalition was founded in 2009 after parents sought assistance from law enforcement in addressing youth drug habits amid a spike of heroin use in the Crescenta Valley. In September 2010, it was awarded a five-year, $625,000-grant through the federal Drug Free Communities Program.

Daily marijuana use among high school students nationwide is at a 30-year high, Zakarian said. The consumption of alcohol and prescription drugs is also common among Glendale teenagers, he added. Heroin also remains an issue.

“It is limited to a small percentage of our young adults, however, the recovery rate is very low and often leads to death,” Zakarian said.

Attendees discussed strategies on how to best reach out to non-English speaking parents who might be unfamiliar with the culture of recreational drug use in the United States, and at what age prevention programming should begin.

Anna Phillips, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney with the Pasadena Juvenile Division, said anti-alcohol and drug message needs to be implanted in children’s brains at a very young age.

For instance, she said, her own 8-year-old children are well versed in the importance of recycling and energy conservation — they would never dream of throwing out an aluminum can — largely because of the programming they receive at school.

Alcohol and drug prevention could follow a similar model, she said.

“Then it is not an attack when they are 14, 15,” Phillips said. “It is just the way things are, just to them would never leave lights on in a room when you walk out. You just don’t do it. It is harmful."

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