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Youth Summit aims to ‘save lives’

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Heather McMurray, Drug Enforcement Agency Diversion Program Manager, talks about the highly lethal nature of pills cut with fentanyl during the public session of a Youth Summit held in Roswell Tuesday night at Pearson Hall at the New Mexico Military Institute. Parents who have lost children due to drug overdoses also shared their experiences to prevent such tragedies from occurring again. From left are David and Sheri Dawson of Ruidoso with a photo of their son, Zachary, and Veronica and Cesar Gomez, with a photo of their son, C.J., Zachary’s friend. The young men passed away within three days of each other. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

They are cheerleaders. Honor roll students. Military members. Star athletes.

Teens and young adults who become addicted to alcohol and drugs can’t be labeled. They come from all walks of life, all types of backgrounds.

“When they become victims,” said parent Veronica Gomez, “we need to become warriors.”

Gomez shared the story of her son, C.J., during the public session of the Youth Summit held Tuesday night on the New Mexico Military Institute campus.

C.J. died of a pill overdose after his third attempt at rehabilitation and after several years of struggle with alcohol, pills, marijuana and heroin.

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Organized by a coalition of public health agencies in the state, the forums are occurring in six cities in New Mexico this year to urge teens and young adults, as well as the adults in their lives, to prevent substance misuse and abuse.

Earlier in the day, a similar forum had occurred for Chaves County school children, with more than 500 students in attendance.

“Prevention is the best option,” said David Dawson, who lost his son, Zachary, to an overdose. “Once you are hooked, it is an uphill battle.”

Zachary and C.J. were friends and part of a group of kids in the Ruidoso and Carrizozo area with addiction issues, with seven dying within three months of each other, according to Dawson.

Many young people often start with prescription pills but don’t realize the drugs’ highly addictive nature. If they become addicted, they often move on to heroin or fentanyl or other highly potent drugs, said Heather McMurray, a Drug Enforcement Agency Diversion Program manager, because the addiction will require stronger and more potent drugs to stave off painful withdrawal symptoms.

In today’s world, she said, pills that young people often get at school, parties or from friends can be very dangerous, cut with fentanyl, which can cause fatal overdoses in small amounts. A presentation she shared indicated the impossibility of telling the fake pills from the actual prescribed pills, so she urged people not to take any pills that do not come directly from a medical doctor or pharmacy.

The night also included the film, “If Only,” presented by the Mark Wahlberg Foundation, that dramatizes the addiction experiences of young teens.

“We have started the communication,” said Carole Rutten of the Behavioral Health Services Division of the New Mexico Department of Health. “I think the commitment and passion is there to take care of our youth in our communities. I think Roswell is very fortunate to have a lot of resources and support for our kids.”

She said parents or youth who want more information or assistance can contact many different groups in the area, including school counselors, the New Mexico Department of Health, the Chaves County DWI Prevention Program, Wings for Hope or the Chaves County Health Council.

More information is also available on the “resource page” of the New Mexico Youth Summit website, togetherwearestrongernm.com.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.