Over 2600 community leaders from across the nation, and 12 countries, took part in CADCA’s 25th Annual National Leadership Forum in National Harbor, Md. this week. In addition to hearing from a wide range of national experts and federal leaders, participants honed their substance abuse prevention skills through the 80+ training sessions.
CADCA’s National Leadership Forum is the nation’s largest and premier training event for substance abuse prevention and treatment professionals and researchers. Training sessions addressed some of the most pressing issues facing communities today – from how to prevent prescription drug abuse and marijuana use among youth to how to reduce tobacco use and underage drinking.
Kicking off the CADCA Forum was keynote speaker Michael Botticelli, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Botticelli stressed the importance of drug prevention to solving our nation’s substance abuse problems.
“Substance abuse prevention must remain an integral part of education, policies and programs if we are to achieve our goals,” Botticelli told participants. “As coalition leaders….you have a powerful voice and are ideally positioned to bring good science, valid data and effective prevention strategies to implement local responses to local drug use issues.”
To mark the 25th anniversary of the CADCA Forum, CADCA hosted a historic panel discussion featuring past U.S. “drug czars”: Dr. William Bennett, Dr. Lee P. Brown, General Barry McCaffrey and John P. Walters. The panel was moderated by award-winning journalist Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today.
Leaders who served under various presidential administrations reflected on how drug issues have changed over the past 20 years and offered recommendations for addressing some of today’s most pressing drug problems – from marijuana and tobacco to prescription drug abuse.
William Bennett, who was the first ONDCP Director under President George H.W. Bush, said the marijuana used by kids and teens in previous decades was much less potent than it is today.
“The science is overwhelming. We’re talking about high THC levels – 15-20 percent, sometimes 25-30 percent. We’ve got to be crazy to throw this stuff into circulation!” he exclaimed.
John Walter added, “It starts with marijuana in almost all cases, and if we don’t cut off that entry point, we are not going to make progress against…other forms of substance abuse.”
General McCaffrey echoed that sentiment. “Marijuana, ecstasy and beer in adolescents – if you can stop or delay that kind of behavior, you end up with a healthier population,” he said.
Dr. Brown, who served under President Bill Clinton, offered what he believes is the solution to today’s teen drug use problem. “There is an answer [to the drug abuse problem] and the answer is communities working together at the local level…and that is what this organization [CADCA] has been doing for 25 years. I am a strong believer that if we mobilize our local resources, we can make a difference.”
Preventing prescription drug abuse was a major topic throughout the week. Sessions were led by a number of experts on prescription drug abuse, such as Joe Rannazzisi, Drug Enforcement Administration; Van Ingram, Kentucky Office of Drug Control; Dr. Douglas Throckmorton, Deputy Center Director for Regulatory Programs, FDA; John Burke, Past President of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators; and Dr. Rick Dart, Director, Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center and Professor University of Colorado.
Several courses also helped community leaders understand the science around marijuana use. The sessions were led by distinguished subject matter experts, who shared valuable information on the impact marijuana use has on academic achievement and brain development, public and highway safety, productivity and the workforce, and the environment. These sessions featured experts such as, Dale Quigley, High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA); Joanne Thomka JD, National Traffic Law Center, National District Attorneys Association; and Dr. Wilson Compton, Deputy Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, who led a course on marijuana’s effects on brain development, thinking and memory.
The Forum also featured several other renowned speakers including Dr. Howard Koh, who received CADCA’s National Leadership Award for his significant contributions to public health and tobacco prevention, and his long-standing support of community-based drug prevention. Koh, former Assistant Secretary for Health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is a Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership at the Harvard School of Public Health.
For many participants, the Forum is not only an opportunity to learn new skills to reduce drug problems in their community, it’s also a chance to connect with other like-minded individuals who are equally passionate about drug prevention.
“This is a wonderful conference. I try to come every year – this is probably my 6th or 7th year. The work that we do in prevention is difficult and sometimes feels very isolating. It’s really wonderful to be in a large group with people who have the same amount of passion and interest doing the work that we do. It’s really reinforcing and re-energizing. When we go [home] we know that there are others across the country doing the same sort of work that we’re doing,” said Rebecca Ewell, a coalition leader from Little Compton, R.I.
Angel Roman, who traveled from Chicago, Ill. to attend the CADCA Forum, said the amount of training you get throughout the week makes the Forum an invaluable learning experience.
“This is my fourth year coming to CADCA, and honestly I wouldn’t miss it for the world. You get all the training that you really need and then you take it back to your coalition and then what you’ve learned eventually reaches and impacts the community,” he said.
Coalition leaders also attended SAMHSA’s 11th annual Prevention Day in conjunction with the Forum. SAMHSA’s Prevention Day focused on “The Power of Prevention: Making Impact in a Time of Change.”
The one-day event provided a place for prevention practitioners, community leaders, researchers, scientists, consumers, and advocates in the behavioral health field to learn about effective programs and the latest prevention-related developments in the areas of substance abuse and mental health. Participants were able to network with other SAMHSA grantees and partners and had the opportunity to take part in workshops to enhance their strategic planning and to share experiences and information.
The CADCA Forum also included an opportunity for community leaders to hear from members of Congress during Capitol Hill Day and meet with their state’s U.S. Representatives and Senators.
During an energetic Capitol Hill Day plenary event moderated by CADCA Board member and former member of Congress, Mary Bono, participants heard from Representatives Paul Tonko (D-NY), Bill Keating (D-MA) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), and Former member of Congress Nick Rahall (D-WV).
Rep. Tonko stressed the importance of funding prevention efforts. “We can pay now or pay dearly later, with dollars and human lives,” he warned.
Later that day, during a reception on Capitol Hill, attendees heard remarks by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Rob Portman (R-OH) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH); and Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL).
Sen. Portman, who was one of the original sponsors of the Drug-Free Communities Act while serving in the House of Representatives, underscored the importance of preventing drug use before it starts.
“The most important thing we can do is stop people from getting into the funnel of addiction,” he said.