CADCA Publisher May 23, 2017

The Opposite of Addiction is Human Connection: Youth-Adult Partnerships Spur Success at DEA 360 Strategy Summit

In my travels across the country and the world, I’ve worked with thousands of young people in youth and adult partnerships. It never gets old; in fact, it’s the very thing that moves me and drives me to continue – the challenge and inevitable reward.

Mentoring youth is no easy task and yet it brings the most joy. According to a study done by the Big Brothers-Big Sisters organization, youth with mentors are 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27 percent less likely to begin using alcohol, and 52 percent less likely to skip school. Youth and adult partnerships are pivotal to healthy and safe choices and CADCA as an organization is committed to developing both youth leaders and adult mentors. I am proud to be part of such an amazing effort.

CADCA’s youth leadership department recently had the opportunity to partner with the DEA 360 Strategy in New Hampshire. The DEA 360 Strategy project is a partnership between the DEA and CADCA to provide tools and resources to cities across America that have been hit hardest by the opioid and heroin crisis. Cities like Louisville, KY, Charleston, WV, and Philadelphia, PA specifically select the structure of a summit and training based on their communities’ needs. Manchester, New Hampshire was the first city in the DEA 360 Strategy project to request youth engagement support.

In the planning process, it was decided that the youth needed to be trained to be coalition leaders and, following the training, they would present their strategies to a panel aired on TV. Manchester wanted to create a sustainable, comprehensive approach to combat the opioid epidemic plaguing their community, not just now but years down the road. We have and can continue to do so through youth leadership.

 As we entered the three-day training, the young people were supported by coalition leaders, school assistant counselors, parents, and the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the local DEA field office. Throughout the training, there was ample discussion between youth and adults, both communicating and learning each other’s perspectives for the first time.

Youth are essential to community prevention problem-solving; however, they require guidance and support from adult mentors. The quality and quantity of adult mentorship the youth received in Manchester has contributed to their success post-training.

As the young people presented their strategies on television, key stakeholders not only from the community, but also from the state came together to listen to what the young people had to say. Governor Chris Sununu, the mayor of Manchester, chiefs of police from across the state, the county commissioner, principals, guidance counselors, representatives from U.S Senators’ offices, the chief of the New Hampshire liquor commission, the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, Manchester Alderman, acting U.S. Attorney, Assistant U.S. attorney, former U.S. attorney, representatives from Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center were all there that evening, ready to listen to the youth.

After the event concluded, I stood back and watched as the community came together, parents congratulating their kids, teachers hugging their students, the Governor engaging in discussion with his youth constituents, the Director of Liquor Enforcement explaining compliance checks. It was remarkable watching new partnerships between youth and adults develop that evening.

One of the best memories I have of the entire event is when a young man stood up and said, “Addiction is a lonely disease and the opposite of addiction is human connection.” It stirred me to the core. Am I doing enough to build human connection through youth and adult partnerships?

Any opportunity I am offered, I always try to find a way to spotlight a youth or encourage them to present to an audience. This is how CADCA’s youth leadership department mentors and engages youth in youth-adult partnerships. As we move into the summer months, I think of the many young people looking for opportunities to work and stay busy. I challenge our coalitions to reach out to your young people and task them with things to do in your daily work because building relationships and partnerships is key to community problem-solving. 

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