Eighty medical professionals, law enforcement officers, clergy and other community leaders gathered in Kenai on Monday to kick off the Communities That Care program, an attack on drug abuse by way of changing behavior in teenagers.
Organized by the Community Action Coalition for Prevention, the Purdue Pharma company-sponsored CTC program teaches members of the community to promote healthy development of youth by identifying and reducing risk factors that might lead young people to abuse drugs, assessing the community and its resources and implementing a community plan.
"We have parents that do everything they can to help kids help with homework assignments, volunteer with sports and still somehow they find themselves confronted with the drug problem," said Steve Kiefer, superintendent of the Kenai Peninsula Youth Facility, one of several civic leaders who spoke during the kick-off luncheon at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska.
"If we could prevent one teen pregnancy ... if we could prevent one teen from dropping out of school ... if we could prevent one teen from becoming addicted to drugs, the cost of the program would be well worth it," said David Gilbreath, chief executive officer of Central Peninsula General Hospital.
CPGH and the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority recently provided grants of $10,000 and $15,000, respectively, to match a $25,000 grant from Purdue Pharma to fund Communities That Care.
Purdue Pharma is the manufacturer of OxyContin, a prescription painkiller designed for use by cancer patients, but also a highly addictive drug that has been widely abused by people looking for a high.
OxyContin is the patented, time-release version of oxycodone, a potent narcotic derived from opium. Abusers find ways to bypass the time-release system and get the whole dose at once.
The Kenai Peninsula drug task force was formed more than two years ago in response to a report showing that 15 percent of the money being paid by Medicaid for oxycodone prescriptions in Alaska was on the peninsula, which has only 6 percent of the state's population.
Earlier this year, the action coalition was created as a spinoff from the task force.
"The strength of this program will be in the participation," said Jon Walters, pastor of United Methodist Church of the New Covenant, and one of the founding members of the drug task force.
"As with any program of recovery, the first hurdle is to admit there is a problem," Walters said.
"I was pleased to see that all the mayors came on board right away," he said, of Dave Carey, mayor of Soldotna; Dale Bagley, mayor of the Kenai Peninsula Borough and John Williams, former mayor of Kenai. Walters also said newly elected Kenai Mayor Pat Porter has endorsed the program.
Stan Steadman, executive director of Central Peninsula Health Centers, said, "This new initiative is to attack the problem through a change in behavior."
Communities That Care involves a series of five training sessions for no more than 40 community members, conducted every three to five months over a 12- to 18-month period.
The first session, a two-day orientation, will be conducted Jan. 28 and 29 at the Kenai River Center. Attendees will learn the basics of the CTC process and protective factors and risk factors affecting youth. They also will develop a vision statement for the program as it pertains to central peninsula communities.
During Monday's kick-off, Clay Yeager, director of community partnerships for Purdue Pharma, told the group how he learned the meaning of love when he and his wife had their first child.
"I also learned the meaning of fear," he said. "Every one of the kids in this community needs someone just as fearful for them if not a parent then us.
"Communities That Care provides that safety net," Yeager said.
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