What better place to learn about community drug prevention and the power of the voice of youth than in Washington DC? During the week of January 31-February 3, 2022 5 Morgan Juniors and 2 PiC staff attended the National Leadership Forum of the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America in our nation’s capitol. Chosen to attend due to their involvement with REACT and PiC throughout their middle and high school years, these students were able to hear from government and community leaders about the latest in preventing substance abuse and promoting mental health. After two years of virtual conferencing, it was finally safe to meet in person this year.
Students Ben and Addison Auletta, Courtney Vause, Sara Carey and Sydney Giuliano, along with staff Kelley Edwards and Shelby Mehmet, travelled to DC on Monday January 31, their flight delayed one day due to the significant snow storm on January 30. Held at the Gaylord National Conference Center, the CADCA forum offered a variety of workshops, speakers and experiences on topics such as opioids, marijuana, vaping, youth leadership, mental health, community collaboration, assessing community strengths and needs, and alcohol use. It was attended by approximately 2000 people from all over the US and other countries such as St. Croix, Guam and Puerto Rico.
After the flights on Monday, the Clinton crew decided to take in some of the history offered by the National Mall in DC. They visited the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and many of the war memorials, including the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. It was humbling to all to realize all of the history occurring where they stood- speeches over looking the Reflecting Pool, Presidential swearing-in ceremonies, and then all of the lives remembered by the war monuments. All were able to absorb the enormity that surrounded them in that area of U.S. history and honor.
On Tuesday the day kicked off with speakers that included the U.S. Drug Czar, Dr. Rahul Gupta, who serves as the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Biden. Dr. Gupta shared the frightening continuation of opioid overdose fatalities across the country, as well as mental health concerns for adults and youth. He confirmed that the Biden administration is committed to funding prevention as well as increased treatment for addiction, which is welcome news regardless of one’s political affiliation.
Workshops that the students attended on Tuesday included Support for LBGTQ in Prevention, a new way to run shorter virtual meetings with a power 15 minute presentation, new ways to communicate with digital media, marijuana policy and alcohol impacts on teens. On Tuesday evening, the Clinton contingent met with 20 other Connecticut prevention professionals and 2 youth from Hale Ray High School (East Haddam) to learn about legislative advocacy. The teens then met separately to plan out important information that they wanted to share with CT’s federal legislators the next day.
Wednesday was a truly unique day which presented Clinton’s students the chance to talk directly with federal congress members. Prior to Covid, these meetings took place in the nation’s Capitol Building; however due to the Jan 6 insurrection, safety of visitors remained a concern. The meetings had to be virtual this year. The Clinton students did an incredible job of speaking directly with Rep. Joe Courtney about legalized marijuana and lack of mental health treatment for youth. Rep. Courtney assured the students that there is a bill expected to pass by 2/18/22 that will include increased funding for treatment services in CT. When asked about the possibility of nationwide legalized marijuana, Rep Courtney stated that he did not feel that this would happen in the near future.
After lunch the students zoomed with the personal aides of Senators Murphy and Blumenthal. This discussion also included concerned about lack of treatment for adolescent mental health and addiction, as well as the need to continue funding for prevention. It was reassuring to hear that all of CT’s congress members fully support prevention, recognize the need for treatment services, and actively advocate for community coalitions. The students were very articulate and thoughtful in what they shared with the legislators; a tremendous source of pride for Clinton!
Wednesday evening the group celebrated their conversations with our nation’s leaders by riding on a 180-foot ferris wheel on the National Harbor. It was a beautiful night to be outdoors and to be able to see out over Washington DC.
Thursday’s workshops brought more information on opioid overdose response, neuroscience in prevention, tobacco prevention and marijuana use by youth. The students and staff agreed that our knowledge and strategies used in Clinton should be taught at a future CADCA! Workshops to be planned!
Overall the CADCA experience was appreciated by all. The students enjoyed meeting people from around the country and learning how far-reaching prevention efforts are. It was interesting to understand more about some of the larger issues such as opioid deaths and the many ways that Covid has impacted our nation. Having the chance to speak directly with the individuals who are making the decisions for our country was really impactful and empowering for everyone. With another forum approaching in July (Orlando, FL), the staff and students are eager to create a presentation of their own to share with attendees!
This trip also reminded the students that being sober can really be a rewarding thing. REACT provides young people with many positive experiences for being good peer influences and leaders. Aside from out-of-state conferences like CADCA, REACT members can take part in local conferences, serve on state youth advisory boards, attend outdoor adventures like canoeing, camping and backpacking, and more. If you want to be involved, REACT meets on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays each month from 7-8 PM at Morgan. You can also email Shelby at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.