By Sandi P. Beason
TUPELO – A program for troubled teens run through a local nonprofit agency is leaving a tangible mark.
One participant, a 17-year-old who asked that his name not be used, went through the Towards No Drug Abuse program after undergoing drug treatment.
“I started going there, and I quit using after the third week,” he said. Before treatment, he had used crack cocaine, heroin and “pretty much anything.”
The TND program “enlightened me to see that I could help other teens my age by showing them the way to go,” he said. Now, he is a member of Solutions NA, and he goes each Tuesday to help with other TND classes.
Dody Vail, executive director of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence of North Mississippi, which administered the program, said his case was not typical, but the TND program, now in its third year, has gotten good reviews. The first year of the TND program was evaluated by the Social Science Research Laboratory at the University of Mississippi.
“The first year saw a significant reduction in the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs among those who completed the program,” said Vail said.
For marijuana use, the percent reporting zero usage drops more than a dozen points in the second wave, the report shows. The overwhelming majority report zero usage of inhalants, and most non-zero usage reports are for one or two occasions.
In the report, 98 percent of respondents reported never using crack cocaine.
“Ours is a unique approach,” she said. “Our staff are prevention specialists, and are certified by the Department of Mental Health and NCADD. We are recovering people.
“When we teach the kids, we speak their language. We relate to their lives and home situations. It's hard to con people who have been there before you.”
So far, she said, 385 teenagers have participated in the program. The students are referred by parents, school counselors, youth courts, alternative schools and boys and girls homes in Lee and Prentiss counties.
The course covers many topics, including stereotyping, chemical dependency, tobacco, marijuana, self control and decision making.
“The relationship of students with a recovering person is what gives them the grounds to trust us, and deeply instill hope that their life will be better in the future by our example,” Vail said.
The program was funded by a grant through the Department of Mental Health. Vail said the grant runs out in 11 months, but she is seeking alternative funding sources to continue the program.