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Clinton Health Matters Initiative: Substance Abuse

Betty Ford Center leads community effort for change

By Lauren Del Sarto

Let’s face it. We drink a lot. It’s part of the pleasure – and often the perils – of living in a resort community.

The numbers speak for themselves. According to HARC’s 2010 survey, the Coachella Valley has a higher prevalence of people who binge drink than the national benchmark. Surveys show that 21.3 percent of residents who consumed alcoholic beverages engaged in binge drinking during the 30 days prior to being surveyed. The percentages remain high for all ethnic groups including 17.2 percent of all Caucasian and 33.6 percent of Hispanic respondents.

The CHMI Blueprint for Action states that “A resort community atmosphere would normally explain the high number of binge drinkers; however, these numbers do not reflect responses from tourists, and only represent year-round residents.” But of course, someone has to entertain all those out-of-towners, right?

However, when you consider the large number of alcohol-related deaths and driving incidents we hear about daily, you realize there is truly cause for concern. Thus, one of the “Health Behavior” goals of the Blueprint, which was established by our own local health task force, is to “reduce mortality and adverse effect (morbidity) by 50 percent in 5 years.” This is a lofty goal, but heading the effort is our very own Betty Ford Center.

“We are honored to have been asked by the Clinton Foundation and are proud to take part,” says Betty Ford Center’s CEO, John Schwarzlose. But no one group can do this alone, so the center’s first step is to unite all local agencies and resources. “There are a lot of groups doing great work including senior centers, Desert Aids Project, and numerous Latino focused agencies in the East valley,” adds Schwarzlose. “Bringing everyone together in a combined effort is key to the initiative’s success.”

Areas of focus include prevention, resources for adolescents, and expansion of the Betty Ford Center’s children’s program into k-5 grades at all three valley school districts. This program not only includes education, but also resources for children who are struggling with family addictions. “Eisenhower Medical Center has stepped up to the plate to help fund the school effort and we are currently seeking a bilingual, trained counselor to work in both the Desert Sands and Coachella Valley School Districts.” A counselor in the Palm Springs School District is planned in the future.

Training and education doesn’t stop with schools. “Our bold steps will include training health care professionals to recognize the signs and to increase the number of substance abuse workers in the valley.”

The Clinton Foundation will also be providing examples of programs that have worked in other communities, such as offering training for bartenders and servers to recognize when customers have had enough, and to take action.

So where do you currently go if you feel you (or a family member) have a problem? “The family physician is usually the first place people will go,” says Schwarzlose, “but with this effort, we hope to make more resources readily available.” It is worth noting that The Betty Ford Center offers free assessment 7 days a week for all Coachella Valley residents. In addition, no child is ever turned away from the Children’s Program due to the inability to pay.

Access the Clinton Health Matters Initiative’s Coachella Valley Blueprint for Success: http://www.clintonfoundation.org/assets/files/CHMI_CoachellaDoc_v4.pdf. To get involved in this task force contact The Clinton Foundation’s Tricia Gehrlein (760) 834.0975. For more information on the Betty Ford Center’s programs call (800) 434-7365.

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