New Paltz is still reeling from the recent suicide of 15-year-old Maya Gold, but people and resources at all levels of the community are pulling together to shape a response designed to prevent similar tragedies from happening again among local youth. One organization at the forefront of that effort is the Greater New Paltz Community Partnership (GNPCP), which was founded with Drug-Free Communities grant funding specifically to take a proactive role in redirecting young people at risk for drug and alcohol abuse.
Under the directorship of Phoenix Kawamoto, GNPCP’s board and representatives of its Partners in Prevention coalition members meet quarterly to share information and discuss strategies. The group’s most recent meeting on October 20 at the New Paltz Community Center was also attended by a handful of concerned parents with questions on their minds about the current state of substance abuse among kids in our community. “What is making the kids go this way?” asked the mother of one of Gold’s friends. “There was a reason Maya went to this place. How do we make sure that kids don’t go there?”
Kawamoto began the session with an overview of “substances of concern,” noting that trends in which drugs “peak” in popularity among young people are constantly changing. As kids become aware that one drug or another has consistently dangerous health effects, she said — such as those with the street names of molly, spice and bath salts — they will often turn to another believing erroneously that it is safe.
Opiates found in prescription painkillers like hydrocodone and oxycodone are currently a major concern because of their easy availability in the family medicine cabinet; but because they are costly, users of these narcotics will often turn to heroin — which is actually cheaper on the street — when their supply runs out. Attendees noted that some young people being medicated for ADHD will share the pills with their friends. “Kids who have Adderall sometimes sell it, especially around test time,” said one.
Kawamoto pointed out that Dedrick’s Pharmacy offers a medical lockbox for sale below cost for the storage of dangerous medications at home. “The list of substances with potential for abuse is very long,” she said, not excluding alcohol. “We’ve had clients who drink vanilla extract,” reported Roger Spool, director of the Highland-based drug treatment program Step One, “or Listerine, which has a very high alcohol content.”
Of growing concern is abuse by young people of non-prescription medications with psychoactive ingredients, such as certain decongestants and antihistamines. “The amount of dextromethorphan was recently raised in over-the-counter cold and flu preparations,” Kawamoto noted. “The police are working with stores to have DM meds pulled or put behind the counter,” reported New Paltz Police lieutenant Rob Lucchesi. “Many of the stores are putting them in areas that are readily accessible to anybody.”
The group went on to discuss warning signs for both intoxication and withdrawal from various drugs. Opiates, for example, causes pinpoint pupils while in use and dilated pupils during withdrawal, among other symptoms, said Eric D’Entrone of Arms Acres, a drug treatment facility based in Carmel. Comprehensive lists of symptoms are readily available online, at websites run by such organizations as the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association. And Kawamoto called Understanding Teen Brain Science and Narcotics Abuse, accessible on YouTube, “a really important video to watch.”
But attendees cautioned that some behaviors that may appear symptomatic of drug abuse, such as yawning or nausea, can simply result from lack of sleep or an illness. “Demeanor change is the telltale sign,” said Kristen Bird of the Health Alliance of the Hudson Valley. “Any adolescent can be happy one day and crying the next. But look for patterns, changes.” “You know your kids,” Kawamoto agreed.
GNPCP members are now pooling their resources to educate young people and provide healthy alternatives to drugs for youth under stress or in crisis, such as starting up Mindfulness Meditation workshops at the high school and in the community. The group also presented a Voices of Recovery Festival at SUNY New Paltz on October 24 and a community forum on grief, loss and suicide prevention on October 26 at Historic Huguenot Street’s Deyo Hall. More such “Community Conversations” will follow; the next GNPCP quarterly meeting will take place in January and be open to interested members of the public. For lots more information and updates, visit www.gnpcp.org.