As it continues its mission to reduce the overuse and misuse of illicit drugs and alcohol, the Pasco County Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention has witnessed progress during several areas during the past year.
During 2018, Pasco County:
- Saw its drug poisoning death rate, or overdoses, register a slight decrease — for the first time since 2014
- Reported lower figures of illicitly used prescription pain relievers among its high school student population
- Saw a decline in alcohol usage among youth in the county
- Registered dips in other alcohol-use indicators, such as underaged drinking and impaired driving
Chrissie Parris, interim director for the alliance, which is also known as ASAP, characterized those reports as “big wins” and “good signs” for the county during a recent interview with The Laker/Lutz News.
“The message seems to be getting out there,” Parris said, regarding the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
But, there continues to be much work to be done by ASAP — a coalition which seeks to address the underlying issues of addiction, and ways to address and prevent it in among youths and adults.
The opioid crisis will continue to be a priority area for ASAP in 2019, Parris said.
Reducing alcohol abuse will be a key issue, too.
Parris said ASAP has seen an increase in total deaths in related to alcohol overconsumption —despite the decline in alcohol usage in the youth population countywide.
Chronic liver disease also remains one of the top 10 causes of death in Pasco, she said.
“Alcohol is never off of the table,” Parris said. “It’s still the most prevalent drug that we see.”
Meanwhile, she said the organization will seek to address a drug that has popped up on its radar of late: methamphetamine.
More drug users have turned to meth as law enforcement and health organizations crack down on other substances, she added.
“A lot of it has to do with availability and accessibility,” Parris said, also noting that meth “creates a strong psychological dependence very quickly.”
Parris said ASAP is trying to find ways to interface with meth users in the county.
Parris put it this way: “We have a hard time finding out, ‘What’s the underlying cause there?’ and ‘Why are we still turning to meth?’ It seems to be more of a cultural thing in certain pockets of the county.”
Another “big priority” for ASAP this year is reducing the stigma associated with mental health issues, Parris said.
Part of that involves increasing awareness regarding the need to recognize early signs and symptoms of possible mental illness, and helping those who are struggling to gain access to assistance.
The coalition also is working on several programming tracks with health care professionals, recovery community organizations and the faith-based community, to provide more awareness on available resources for substance abuse prevention and recovery.
There will also be several workshops and other general meetings throughout the year to engage youth, parents and other community members, Parris said.
“We’re trying to help everybody work better together, to fill in those gaps in services or pockets of need in our community.
“We’ll continue to build our action plans around drugs that we see trends with in Pasco County,” Parris said.
The alliance also plans to have its annual conference, “Strengthening Our Communities on Mental Health and Drug Prevention,” on May 14 at Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel.
The event’s keynote speaker is Austin Eubanks, a Columbine survivor, who will discuss how he treated a lot of his emotional pain with opioids he was prescribed after being shot in the school shooting, and what communities can do for prevention, treatment, recovery and relapse prevention for substance abuse.
“It’s pretty powerful,” Parris said of Eubanks’ talk. “We’re really excited to have him on board.”
For more information on ASAP, visit PascoASAP.com, or call (727) 315-8658.
Published January 23, 2019