• 63°

Drug-free coalition takes step

To form an army, the first step is to get people willing to step onto the battlefield, armed and ready to fight the enemy.

On Thursday, the Drug Free Coalition took those first steps and held its first meeting at the Oxford and Lafayette County Public Library where about 20 people attended to join the fight against drug and alcohol abuse.

All were ready and some came armed — armed with numbers that showed the rising threat to Lafayette County’s youth.

According to Melody Madaris, director of substance abuse at Communicare, a recent poll of Oxford and Lafayette County students in grades 6 through 12 showed 33 percent admitted to using alcohol within the last 30 days. About 18 percent said they smoked marijuana and 16 percent said they used prescription drugs illegally.

About 65 percent said they had drove or have been a passenger in a car in the last 30 days. About 33 percent said they have had alcohol before driving and 22 percent said they had been in a car where the driver was under the influence.

“These are the roads I drive every day,” Madaris said. “These kids are riding around and making our roads unsafe for themselves and everyone else.”

Mississippi is in the top 10 states with the most excessive drinking- and prescription drug-related hospital admissions, Madaris said.

Communicare preventative specialist Tracy Baker also helped coordinate the coalition meeting.

Goals

The meeting’s goal was to form a drug-free coalition, made up of anyone who would like to protect young adults and fight underage drinking, binge drinking, illegal and prescription drug abuse and more.

Communicare is the sub-grantee of the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, and received a grant recently from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for a substance abuse prevention initiative.

The $800,000 grant funds five-year project.

The coalition will assist Communicare to conduct a community needs assessment and choose an evidence-based program to take into area schools, including the University of Mississippi.

Melissa Smith, impact coordinator, said the coalition should be made up of people from all aspects of the community to be successful.

“We all have different skill sets we can share so we can work for our community as a team,” she said at the meeting. “Everyone has separate experiences, beliefs and skills … By working in unison we can create a better environment for ourselves and our families.”

Donald Dunlap with the Alcohol Beverage Commission’s law enforcement division in Oxford also brought some statistics to the meeting. He and his fellow officers frequently run “stings” of area bars to catch underage drinkers.

According to him, within the last five years, there have been 298 people arrested for having a fake ID, 320 arrested for being a minor in the possession of liquor and 214 arrests for being a minor in possession of beer.

Dunlap, holding two handfuls of recently confiscated fake driver’s licenses, said the fake ID business is a billion-dollar business that is often led by people overseas.

“They are mailed in wooden tea boxes to get through customs,” he said. “Most of the money made through this business helps to fund terrorism throughout the world. I wonder how many kids would buy one if they knew that.”

Drug unit stance

Lafayette County Metro Narcotics Commander Rod Waller and his officers are often on the front lines of the war against drugs. Waller, while only being commander since January, said prescription drug abuse is still a big problem in the LOU community.

“But we’re still seeing plenty of cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana, in particular the rise of THC wax and edibles, where they  are putting it in food,” he said.

He said he’s hopeful that the community is coming together to help reduce the drug and alcohol use in minors.

“As law enforcement, our job is to enforce the law,” he said. “The community coalition will try to teach them the risks of substance abuse and how it’s not helpful for them, or the people they’re selling drugs to.”

The coalition’s goals will be to reduce alcohol and prescription drug abuse; increase parental disapproval of underage drinking by not allowing kids to have parties at home so they are “at least not driving around;” increase the perceived risk and harm of binge-drinking; increase family communication about drug and alcohol abuse; and reducing DUI arrests in Oxford and Lafayette County.

“By working together, we can open the door to positive change in our community,” Smith said. “When I was in school, someone I knew wanted to go to Ole Miss when he graduated because it was known to be a party campus. That’s not the kind of reputation I want for my hometown. Ole Miss has so much to offer. One person standing alone doesn’t make as much of an impact as a group of 30 fighting it together.”

The next Drug Free Coalition meeting is scheduled for noon April 26 at the Communicare building off Highway 7 South. For more information, call Communicare at 662-234-7521.