Paving the road to recovery
SUMMIT COUNTY – The sun had long since set in Breckenridge on June 4 when 14-year-old Angel Bacio came to, sprawled on a sidewalk near the Riverwalk Center, the red, white and blue lights of a police car and an ambulance flashing in his eyes.His next memory of the evening fast forwards to the interior of the ambulance, where he lay disoriented and confused, en route to the Summit Medical Center.Once inside the facility, Bacio awoke a third time, stood up and stumbled across the room, pulling an IV from his arm.”The doctor said if I drank one more shot, I would have died,” said Bacio, now 15 and a freshman at Summit High School. “My blood alcohol level was four times the legal limit for driving.”Bacio had tossed back about two dozen shots that night before he passed out on the sidewalk in Breckenridge. He and a group of friends had rounded up gallons of vodka, gin, Triple Sec and other liquor to celebrate the end of the school year.Bacio has been sober for more than three months now, and he keeps himself busy with football practices and homework. But he still struggles daily with the temptations of alcohol and drugs, despite the trauma of that night.”It’s really tempting. I used to have a lot of fun when I was on drugs. Now I’m trying to get new friends who don’t do drugs, but it’s hard, because so many people do,” he said.Bacio took his first drink as a seventh-grader and continued to drink on and off throughout his time in middle school, a pattern Summit County mental health professionals, law enforcement staff and social services providers see all too often.A group of local nonprofit and government agencies is hoping to curb the trend. The Summit County Drug-Free Communities Coalition is working to reduce and prevent substance abuse among young people like Angel, with the help of a $100,000 grant from the federal government.The coalition funds and organizes a variety of substance abuse prevention and education programs throughout Summit County, including Mountain Mentors, which matches adults with at-risk young people.
The Summit Prevention Alliance and the coalition hosted a community panel Tuesday, themed “Road to Recovery” to further assess the community’s needs and develop local substance abuse prevention strategies.Bacio and another high school student, Nina Shipman, joined a parent, a therapist, a sheriff’s deputy and a social services case worker to delve into Summit County’s substance abuse problems.Living where others come to party”One of the barriers (to recovery) is the environment we’re in,” Bacio said. “There are parties everywhere. I don’t think you guys realize how many drugs are in this county.”Several panelists contended that Summit County’s status as a tourist destination creates an atmosphere conducive to substance abuse.When people from all over the world venture over the Continental Divide to have fun, it’s hard for residents to avoid getting sucked into the party atmosphere, they said.”There’s an attitude in Summit County that doing drugs is the cool thing to do,” therapist Lisa Dion said.Summit County’s transient population and high concentration of wealth also contribute to substance abuse, some panelists said.”I had never seen cocaine on the back of a toilet seat until I moved to Breckenridge,” said case worker Kirstie Northcutt. “People can get cocaine in endless amounts.”
Summit High School resource officer Lamont Hall said breaking the local laissez faire attitude toward drug and alcohol use is key to making progress.”We need to get our community to realize there is a problem here,” Hall said. “We do have a problem with our youth drug and alcohol use.”Parent John Rovick disagreed that substance abuse issues are disproportionately severe locally.”I think it’s a national problem,” Rovick said. “There’s a lot of partying in Summit County, but if you go to a treatment center, you’ll find people from everywhere.”Supporting families”Family is huge,” Dion said. “Families can make or break the recovery process. Heavy abuse or addiction is not an individual problem – it’s a family problem.”Dion said a child’s vulnerability to addiction can begin as early as age 4 or 5 when families have problems with roles, rules and hierarchies.”This community needs to support families. I wish this community had more of a family feel to it,” she said.Dion stressed the importance of identifying at-risk children in elementary school before they face peer pressure they’re likely to encounter in middle school.
Shipman suggested holding events like Tuesday’s panel in school facilities for students and parents to talk openly and honestly about substance abuse.”We need to form a united front. It’s a huge issue, and awareness is key,” Rovick said.What’s nextTuesday’s panel was part of a countywide needs assessment aimed at identifying local problems and opportunities in youth substance abuse prevention. Surveys of local teens will round out the the information and ideas the panelists offered.”Through this needs assessment, we’ll know what our kids are doing,” said Daphne Schroth of Summit County Human Services. “When we get it all together, we’ll look at it and say, ‘What’s the strategic plan?'”We’ve heard a lot of good things today, and we’ll want to put it into the plan,” Schroth added.Coalition members hope to complete the assessment by the end of this year.Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 203 or email@example.com.
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