As I mentioned in my State of the City address, the City of Melrose is now fully funding our Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator. This critically important position is no longer dependent on grants for support. The opioid epidemic affects all ages, and while our focus remains primarily on the schools, and prevention, we are able to offer services to other groups as well.
One of the services we launched earlier this year is the Interface Helpline, which provides referrals to mental health providers. Any Melrose resident can call 617-332-3666, ext. 1411, or 1-888-244-6842, ext. 1411, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. A mental health professional will help them find resources that will work for their situation; the service is free and completely confidential.
Another part of our strategy is having a full time Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator. Today I want to introduce you to Kathy Guevara, the city’s Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator, who is responsible for oversight of the Substance Abuse Coalition, helping residents who are struggling with addiction and substance use and serving as a consultant, treatment provider, and resource to the Middle and High School staff, parents, and students.
Guevara has offices in Melrose High School and at the Health Department at City Hall. She collaborates very closely with the principals, assistant principals, guidance counselors, and School Resource Officers at the middle school and high school. She also works closely with former assistant principal Bob Savarino, who is the Youth Coordinator. Together, Guevara and Savarino guide the Youth Action Team, a group of high school students who educate their peers about substance abuse through various preventive strategies. One of their means of communication is a bit unorthodox: They create a one page newsletter called “The NewsFlush” that is posted in the school bathrooms in conspicuous spots.
In April, the “NewsFlush” was about alcohol, which Guevara says continues to be widely abused among high schoolers. “With teens, who are just getting or have their driver’s licenses, I talk about what the consequences could be from both a legal and emotional standpoint” she says. “Imagine if you are responsible for the death of your friend because you made bad decisions one night after drinking alcohol.”
Guevara also provides something that many students need: She is a trusted adult who is not their parent. She meets with individual students on a regular or drop-in basis, and she also has a group in the middle school where the students simply talk about the issues that are going on in their lives. She is a consultant and resource to all the school staff in regards to both substance abuse and mental health issues.
While the number of teenagers and young adults who are abusing opiates in Melrose is down Guevara says, alcohol continues to be widely abused and vaping or the use of e-cigs are on an increasingly scary rise.”
One of her goals for this year is to work on implementing a new youth diversion program. The program will help nonviolent first offenders avoid court proceedings and the potential of a criminal record. Instead, the youth agree to the terms of a contract that is about 6 months long. The program requires both the youth and their parent to be educated and learn interventions to prevent substance abuse. The contract may, for example, require the youth to write an essay about how their behavior impacted them and or their families or to “give back” to the community by doing some community service. “It’s an evidence-based treatment model,” she says. “It covers better decision-making, really thinking about the choices one has to make, and learning refusal skills and coping skills. The program is also designed to identify youth who may be developing a substance use disorder and assist them with identifying the need for treatment.”
In the end, Guevara says, the best preventative measure is old-fashioned communication and setting expectations from care providers. “The number one thing to prevent substance use is for parents to have open communication with their kids and have expectations for their behavior,” she says. “Let your children know how disappointed you would be if you found out they were using drugs or alcohol. Evidence shows that is the number one intervention: Parents having relationships with their kids and talking to their kids and saying ‘I have this expectation for you.'”
For more information about how to get involved with the coalition or the Diversion program please contact Guevara at 781-979-4130.