A Phoenix-based African-American Coalition fighting alcohol and prescription drug abuse in the community is building on gains in the past four years and launching a new campaign to drive down substance abuse among African-American youth even more. Alcohol easily is the biggest problem among all youth in Maricopa County and prescription drug abuse has moved up to second place with youth getting hooked on painkillers and stimulants, according to the 2014 Arizona Youth Survey (AYS) administered by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission. Armed with this information, HEAAL (Help Enrich African-American Lives) is using increased funding from the state-contracted Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care to launch a five-month, multimedia campaign to make youth, as well as their parents and support systems, more aware of the problems, their symptoms and counteractions needed to push in the opposite direction.
The campaign, in addition to news articles and ads in the Arizona Informant, will include billboards in South and West Phoenix, radio commercials on 101.1 The Beat and peer presentations by HEAAL’s youth leadership arm. The campaign kicks off this month and concludes in June, the end of HEAAL’s fiscal year. Summaries of the campaign will appear every two months in HEAAL’s online newsletter.
The task is sizeable. The 2014 AYS showed that 69% of 12th graders in Maricopa County have tried alcohol, and 41% have used it in the past 30 days – numbers that are trending down moderately since the 2010 AYS and are at the state average. For prescription drugs, 52% of high school seniors have tried painkillers and stimulants taken from family medicine cabinets and other easily accessible sources, and 17% have done so in the past 30 days.
As most are aware, alcohol and prescription drug experimentation begins in middle school. In 2014, 30% of 8th graders had tried alcohol and 12% had tried prescription drugs. The 30-day use was 12% for alcohol and 8% for prescription drugs. Statistics are not available by race. AYS was taken by 11,400 high school seniors and 22,700 eight graders, including a total of 1,800 African-American youth.
The telltale signs of substance abuse are changing social circles, sleepiness, slurred speech, academic failure, anti-social behavior and missing alcohol or prescription drugs, according to the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission. Harold Mackey, the HEAAL chair, said parents, pastors, teachers and friends would do well to talk to their teens about what issues are causing them to turn to substances and make appropriate recommendations from simple giving up alcohol and prescription drugs to more intensive care through counselors, psychiatrists and psychologists.
Mackey said HEAAL, staffed by Tanner Community Development Corporation (TCDC), always is looking for adults and youth to join its efforts. The Coalition meets at 9:30 AM on the fourth Monday of every month at the TCDC offices, 701 W. Jefferson.