Ten percent of Chaves County youth in ninth to 12th grades sometimes drink and drive, according to a 2017 state survey, and 29.9% binge drink.
Use of painkillers, or opioids, to get high was reported by 10% of youth, while 3.2% said they have used heroin. Another 31.8% use tobacco in some form.
Ten percent have attempted suicide, with 5.1% reporting injuries due to an attempt.
Those numbers put Chaves County youth at the same level of risk or higher risk than New Mexico teens, so a statewide effort to empower youth to become leaders in preventing substance abuse and improving their mental health is coming to Roswell Oct. 22 at New Mexico Military Institute.
The data comes from a 2017 New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey (YRRS), conducted by the New Mexico Department of Health and the New Mexico Public Education Department in cooperation with other state agencies. The YRRS also is supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The 2017 report is the most recent publicly available on the Department of Health’s website. With an 86% response rate and 544 respondents, the results can be considered valid to describe behaviors in general among ninth to 12th grade students, according to the report.
The county has had declining rates of alcohol, tobacco and drug use since 2003, but the behaviors that put teens’ well-being at risk are still a concern to parents, educators and public health officials, including Natalie Rivera.
She is the program manager for the Behavioral Health Planning Council of New Mexico and the statewide coordinator for the Youth Summits occurring in several cities this year.
“We kept getting calls from parents, from schools, worrying about their kids and the dangers of opioids,” Rivera said, “as well as vaping, suicide, really the whole shebang. There is really such a big concern for youth health.”
The first Youth Summit was held in March at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho. Rivera said that it proved to be a success and was requested elsewhere, including among school officials who say funding doesn’t always exist for them to sponsor such educational efforts. Now summits have been scheduled for five areas considered to be in most need. Those include Las Cruces, Farmington, Las Vegas, the pueblo of Pojoaque, as well as Roswell.
The Youth Summit in Roswell involves a morning session for area school students and teachers, as well as a public session starting at 6:30 p.m. in NMMI’s Pearson Hall on North Main Street. Col. Gustavo Garza, program director for the Daniels Leadership Center at NMMI, is helping to coordinate the two sessions.
“Our primary goals are to build a strong youth voice for drug misuse in diverse cultures, strengthen communications between youth-to-youth and youth-to-professional, (and) increase youth engagement to be part of the solution, to be those warriors in those schools, in those communities.”
She explained that peer-to-peer support often has the best potential to change behaviors.
“The most important part of this is showing the kids that there is another way, that there are healthier ways to be. There’s exercising. There’s sports,” she said.
The events are scheduled to include comments by local officials, including NMMI President Maj. Gen. Jerry Grizzle, Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh and a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) program manager.
Jim Walhberg, executive director of the Mark Walhberg Youth Foundation, will introduce the movie “If Only.” The foundation has several missions, including opioid-abuse prevention. The movie shows the potentially fatal and dangerous consequences of opioid and alcohol misuse.
The DEA also will make a presentation called “Real or Fake?” about fentanyl, which increasingly is being mixed into pills without users’ knowledge, leading to overdoses.
A peer social worker, a juvenile probation officer and parent also are scheduled to talk. At the morning school event, a student and Roswell school district representative will make remarks as well.
Rivera said that she would like to see the summits occur in every city of the state at some point.
More information is available at a website, togetherwearestrongernm.com.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.