By Kristy Blanchard
Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in The McAllen Monitor. Read the original version here.
As a family law attorney, my work too often involves cases in which people’s lives are disrupted and even destroyed by substance abuse. As the president of the Texas Young Lawyers Association, an arm of the State Bar of Texas, I want to do all I can to avert young people from this preventable fate.
This month, TYLA launched a new multimedia project that we believe will make a difference by educating young people about the dangers and real-life consequences of substance abuse. Through BSAFE: Battling Substance Abuse For Everyone, we hope to provide resources to people struggling with addiction while educating the public about substance abuse and the benefits of drug courts that rehabilitate offenders.
Sadly, statistics show the need for this project. Four out of five juvenile arrestees are either under the influence of drugs or alcohol while committing their crimes, test positive for drugs, are arrested for committing an alcohol or drug offense, admit to having substance abuse problems, or share some combination of these characteristics, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
The BSAFE project, funded by a Texas Bar Foundation grant, includes a three-part DVD series and written materials for middle and high school students, their parents, and educators. First, a peer-to-peer video tells the story of young people who battled and overcame drug dependence. Through their stories, viewers can see how easily someone can slide from youthful experimentation to addiction.
Sometimes parents and educators don’t know the warning signs of addiction or what to do once they see them. Through BSAFE, they can find a pamphlet and video with tips on how to identify substance abuse and locate resources to help them overcome it.
A third video explains the drug court system, which provides first-time drug offenders with an opportunity to avoid criminal prosecution in exchange for participating in an approved rehabilitation program and remaining drug-free. The system is an alternative to incarceration and has been successful in cutting recidivism in many areas, including Texas.
Judge Ray Wheless of the 366th District Court in McKinney started a drug court program in 2005 because he kept seeing the same defendants come through his court. As he shares in a BSAFE video, the judge knew he could shut the revolving door for some defendants by providing a way to free them from substance abuse. “Drug court programs try to stop the cycle of addiction,” he says. “We don’t give up. We don’t send people to prison. We try to keep them here and get them clean and sober.”
BSAFE differs from the well-known Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program in that it uses peers, not police officers, to deliver the message. We believe having young survivors share their stories offers relatable role models to other young people and equips them to make the right decision before they are ever offered their first drug.
The materials are available to view now on the TYLA website, www.tyla.org. We are also working to get the project into schools across the state, and we need the help of teachers and other educators to make it happen. When a school agrees to participate, TYLA will recruit young attorneys to present the videos in class and talk with students about what they have learned. If you are interested in participating, please contact TYLA at 800-204-2222, ext. 1529, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a law-based society, we have a responsibility to help our young people avoid and overcome substance abuse. If you are a parent, educator, or anyone in a position to influence our children, I hope you will join us in this effort.
Kristy Blanchard is the 2013-14 president of the Texas Young Lawyers Association and an associate of KoonsFuller, P.C., in Plano, where she practices family law. She may be reached at email@example.com.