ALBUQUERQUE – Public and education officials and community advocates held a press conference today to discuss a series of short videos entitled, “Opioids, Alcohol and Athletes,” being distributed to middle and high schools throughout New Mexico as the 2018-2019 school year begins. The videos, designed to educate student athletes, parents and coaches, about the dangers of opioids and alcohol, are a collaborative project of the Bernalillo County Department of Behavioral Health, the New Mexico Activities Association (NMAA), the New Mexico Parent Teachers Association (PTA), and Christopher Productions, LLC.
U.S. Attorney John C. Anderson hosted the press conference as part of the prevention and education component of the New Mexico Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Education (HOPE) Initiative to underscore the fact that New Mexico’s use of opioids, including use by teens and young adults, has become epidemic. U.S. Attorney Anderson noted that the most recent New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey (2015) reflected that 14.3% of students in grades 9 to 12 used prescription drugs without a prescription. The Survey also reflected that 26.1% of students in grades 9 to 12 were current drinkers, with 20% having had their first drinks before age 13, and 19.7% having ridden with a drinking driver. U.S. Attorney Anderson said, “These are startling facts that parents need to be aware of as their teenagers are returning to school.”
The “Opioids, Alcohol and Athletes” Project involved teens, parents, coaches and experts in creating a DVD with seven short videos for use in presentations to student athletes, parents and coaches. Three of the videos are specifically oriented for the high school level and two for middle school level. The Project was funded by Bernalillo County Department of Behavioral Health and the videos were produced by Christopher Productions, LLC.
“Combatting the opioid epidemic is a priority for Bernalillo County, and when it comes to kids, it hits close to home for many of us,” said Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins. “For some young athletes, the prescription pain medication they’ve been prescribed for sports injuries starts the tragic slide into opioid addiction. During the 20 years my kids were involved in organized youth sports, I never once saw anything warning players or parents about the risks associated with the prescription painkillers used in treating sports injuries. This information needs to be shared with every student athlete and every parent because it can save lives.”
Chris Schueler, President of Christopher Productions, LLC, noted that the NMAA is making copies of the DVD available to all schools involved in the Association, in addition to using the DVD in face-to-face programs that will reach youth throughout the state. Mr. Schueler also noted that the NMAA has indicated that it will be loading the videos on its website, which gets approximately 750,000 hits per year. Mr. Schueler said, “Having worked on the opioid issue for more than six years through our ‘No Exceptions’ Program, it is very encouraging to see these partners engaging youth and parents in such a significant way. The distribution of this DVD to middle and high schools throughout the state will make a difference in the battle against the disease of addiction.”
The New Mexico PTA also is distributing the DVD to each PTA in the state, and will feature the “Opioid, Alcohol and Athletes” Project during its annual conference in May 2019. Wendy Ford-Licon, President of the New Mexico PTA said, “New Mexico PTA and PTAs across the country remain steadfast in our longstanding commitment to advocate and make a difference for the education, health and well-being of all children. Parents play an essential role in the fight to eradicate this epidemic. We need to look in our medicine cabinets and see what our kids have access to. Are the medications in our homes safe, secure and necessary? Prevention starts at home and with all of us.”
The Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) already have distributed the DVD to all its high schools. “APS has provided this DVD to all athletic directors at the high school level. We hope it will open doors for candid conversations between student athletes, parents and coaches about the potential risks and dangers of substance abuse,” said Susan McKee, M.A., LPCC, Director of Counseling, APS Student, Family & Community Support Division. “The DVD also provides an avenue for the Crossroads, or substance abuse, counselors to educate student athletes, sports teams and parents.”
Jennifer Weiss-Burke and Lou Duran, Executive Director and Community Advocate, respectively, at Healing Addiction in our Community (HAC) and Serenity Mesa, participated in the press conference. Ms. Weiss-Burke and Ms. Duran both lost teenaged sons – student athletes who became addicted to prescription painkillers prescribed for sports-related injuries – to heroin overdoses in 2011. They are now dedicated to providing support, education and treatment to families and communities fighting to end substance abuse among teens and young adults.
“It is critical for high school athletes and coaches to understand how potentially addictive and dangerous opioids can be. Just because a doctor prescribed them does not mean they are safe,” said Ms. Weiss-Burke. “Education is a key part in addressing the opioid epidemic that has affected so many people in New Mexico and across the United States.”
Ms. Duran added, “We have advocated for our youth across New Mexico for the past eight years, and we have learned that it takes much more than a village to raise a child – it takes an entire community! We are thankful for the opportunity and hope that the takeaway from these videos is that education and awareness are key to keeping our youth safe, and know that addiction can happen to anyone regardless of age, race or socioeconomic status.”
Tim Sheahan, President & CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Central New Mexico, a regular collaborator in the U.S. Attorney’s Office youth-related community outreach activities which have an anti-drug, anti-violence and anti-gang orientation, also participated in the press conference. Mr. Sheahan said, “The Boys & Girls Club uses a team approach that involves our staff, parents and community partners. We engage our members in discussion around decision-making skills, analyzing media and peer influence with the ultimate goal of promoting healthy lifestyles and encouraging responsible behavior.”
U.S. Attorney Anderson concluded the press conference by asking the media to join the partnership before them by letting the community know that the videos would be available to the public in about a week at safeteen.net.
The New Mexico HOPE Initiative was launched in January 2015 by the UNM Health Sciences Center and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in response to the national opioid epidemic, which has had a disproportionately devastating impact on New Mexico. Opioid addiction has taken a toll on public safety, public health and the economic viability of our communities. Working in partnership with the DEA, the Bernalillo County Opioid Accountability Initiative, Healing Addiction in our Community (HAC), the Albuquerque Public Schools and other community stakeholders, HOPE’s principal goals are to protect our communities from the dangers associated with heroin and opioid painkillers and reducing the number of opioid related deaths in New Mexico. The HOPE Initiative is comprised of five components: (1) prevention and education; (2) treatment; (3) law enforcement; (4) reentry; and (5) strategic planning.