• When a Coach is More than a Coach

    In suburban Virginia, 50 high school athletes trickle onto the field and don their soccer cleats and practice jerseys. The coach pulls the players together and gives them the plan for the day. Soon the players are in action, running, kicking, yelling, joking, and happy to be doing what they love most.

    Half an hour into practice, another player arrives and walks slowly onto the field, frowning and clearly distracted. He approaches the coach and says he’s late because he got in trouble at school. The conversation could have ended there, perhaps with punitive laps around the field. Fortunately, the coach does not let the matter drop. He senses something is amiss and knows this could be a perfect time to use his role as an adult influencer to make a positive difference in a young man’s life.

    Mindful of the special relationship between players and coaches, and recognizing that sports provide opportunities for coaches to talk to students about important issues such as drug use, the Virginia High School League (VHSL) requires every coach to complete a challenging online course that emphasizes the principles of positive coaching. This training, detailed in the VHSL Handbook and Policy Manual, is necessary for certification as a coach at all Virginia public high schools and at private Virginia high schools that are VHSL members. Every coach must complete the course and pass a test to confirm his or her understanding of the material. Woven into the program is information on developing skills for educating students and their parents about the harmful effects of alcohol and drug abuse. The course also provides examples of how best to communicate with student athletes and how to make sure they not only hear the message, but fully comprehend and accept it.

    Coaches influence a large and growing number of students in America. For 22 consecutive years, the number of high school students playing sports has exceeded the previous year’s total, according to the annual High School Athletics Participation Survey, released recently by the National Federation of State High School Associations. More than 7.6 million students played sports during the 2010-2011 school year, an increase of nearly 40,000 students compared to 2009-2010. The organization estimates that 55.5 percent of all high school students participate in sports.

    Back on the practice field, the coach pulls the late-arriving player aside. He asks the young man about the trouble he’s in, all the while watching for clues in the player’s words and demeanor. Could it be substance abuse? At this moment, he is more than a soccer coach. He is mentor, counselor, friend, and concerned adult. His brief, targeted intervention is mindful of the lessons learned in the VHSL coaching course on recognizing the signs of drug use and how best to deliver messages that matter.

    As it turns out, the young athlete’s trouble was minor and had nothing to do with drugs. Satisfied that no further action is necessary, the coach sends the player out to join his teammates on the field. It was a short conversation, over in minutes. But sometimes that is all it takes to make a meaningful, enduring impact in a young person’s life.

    Michael Reles, a Budget Analyst at ONDCP, is a Virginia high school soccer coach, certified by the Virginia High School League, Virginia Youth Soccer Association, and U.S. Soccer Federation.

  • A Military Family, Torn by Stress and Substance Abuse, Comes Together by Staying in FOCUS

    Recently, a family came to my office struggling with poor communication and uncontrollable emotions.  Both parents felt exhausted from trying to balance the demands of military and family life, and they were having a hard time adjusting to dad’s new diagnosis of combat-related post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

    In our first training session together, the woman described feeling lonely and confused about why her husband seemed to “shut down” and not care about the family. She said she wanted her husband to stop drinking.  The man felt that his wife was exaggerating and did not completely agree with her. At this point, I provided education about risk factors and how substance abuse can sabotage relationships and family wellness and can also interrupt the healing process for PTSD. The service member explained that he just wanted to “stop the pain” but didn’t realize the drinking was a problem.

    For the next several weeks, the family engaged in guided activities that helped them embrace their strengths as a family, explore the affect of substance abuse on their interactions, and take steps toward their goals of improved communication and family closeness. The family practiced ways to better recognize their feelings and reduce negative thinking.  The whole family also learned about PTSD and developed strategies to solve problems that often arise from combat-related injuries. When I described additional resources, the service member started to consider other treatment options for his drinking.

    By graduation from the FOCUS program, the family was using their newly learned skills in everyday life.  Where the service member once drank to cope with stress, he and his family now used communication, emotional regulation, and problem-solving skills to overcome challenges. During our final session together, the service member announced he had enrolled in a treatment program that also addressed his PTSD. The family felt “relieved” and “hopeful.” As with so many of the families who have come through our doors, the FOCUS program empowered this family to learn better ways to cope.

    Project FOCUS (Families OverComing Under Stress) is a program of the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED). FOCUS supports military families, including  those at risk or currently challenged with substance abuse, to identify their strengths on the way to building their own story of success. For more information about Project FOCUS, visit focusproject.org.

  • Savoring Second Chances on ‘Small Business Saturday’

    This Saturday, November 24, is Small Business Saturday, a day to celebrate small businesses and all that they contribute to our communities. The Office of National Drug Control Policy joins in this effort to support small businesses, and we extend a special “thank you” to businesses that give people in recovery the second chance they rightfully deserve.

    Gwendolyn’s Café is a small business in Fort Myers, Florida, that knows the value of hiring someone in recovery. Owner and operator Gwendolyn Howard started the restaurant in 2010 and has since hired about 20 people in recovery from drug or alcohol abuse. Howard made these hiring decisions because, as a recovering alcoholic herself, she knows that a past addiction does not determine the quality of someone’s character.

    Howard changes lives by providing job opportunities, an important step for people in recovery as they join society as sober citizens. Best of all, with a steady job and a life free of substance use, many of Howard’s recovering employees benefit further by getting back their children, family, and friends.

    We thank all of the small business owners across the Nation who, like Howard, support people in recovery. Tweet with us on Saturday to show how you are honoring #SmallBizSat and people in #recovery.



  • A Salute to Military Veterans and CADCA’s VetCorps Program

    The annual Veterans Day observance holds special meaning for veterans and military families across the Nation and around the world. It also has deep significance for Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA). We work closely with the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force and have a long and special partnership with the National Guard Bureau, which has a counterdrug mission. We honor the service of all active-duty military and veterans and salute their dedication and commitment.

    Many of our returning veterans struggle with substance abuse and addiction, along with a host of other challenges. We wanted to help, and as we sought ways to make a positive difference in the lives of these people we found an exceptional partner in the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). With funding from CNCS, and in partnership with the National Guard Bureau’s Prevention, Treatment and Outreach Program, CADCA launched its own VetCorps program on Veterans Day 2011.

    CADCA’s VetCorps recruits members, particularly military service personnel and veterans, from the AmeriCorps State and National program and from AmeriCorps VISTA and places them in substance abuse prevention coalitions throughout the country. Our goal is to work through coalitions to bridge gaps and direct veterans and military families to the services and support they desperately need – from substance abuse and mental health services to housing and employment opportunities. Providing these essential services is a prevention strategy that builds resiliency and hope among these individuals and families.

    Through CADCA’s VetCorps, coalitions are forging new partnerships and leveraging resources. By teaming up with local mental health service agencies, faith-based community organizations, media outlets, government agencies, and non-profit military-serving organizations, coalitions have begun training family members to provide peer support for other military and veterans families. Some coalitions are providing workshops and creating comprehensive local resource guides, and others are establishing post-deployment re-entry support plans offering training and employment information. These are just a few examples of the ways VetCorps is following the AmeriCorps motto of “getting things done.” (CADCA was honored to have our new VetCorps program profiled in ONDCP’s 2012 National Drug Control Strategy.)

    There are many opportunities for community coalitions to participate in VetCorps, particularly since program members rotate on a two-year volunteer commitment. In fact, grantees in ONDCP’s Drug Free Communities Support Program can use grant funds to support this effort and bring a VetCorps member to their hometown.

    For more information about VetCorps, contact Tanya Hills, CADCA VetCorps Program Manager, at thills@cadca.org.

  • Advocates for Action Guest Post: Providing Hope and Opportunity

    The prescription drug abuse epidemic has ravaged southern and eastern Kentucky. We have been hit harder than most, but our pain is now being felt by others as the scourge has spread across the country.

    Drug abuse affects virtually every family in the country, including my own. I have two nephews struggling with substance abuse and a brother who has been recovering from addiction for the past 20 years. Their successes and setbacks provide motivation for me to help others in similar situations. I persevere armed with faith that God will guide our efforts and strengthen our resolve.

    My heart breaks every time I meet a child who has not eaten at home in days because his or her caregivers are more concerned about feeding their drug habit than feeding their children. I want to scream when these children share stories about seeing parents inserting needles in their arms or describe their deplorable living conditions. Far too many kids have become innocent victims of abuse or neglect because of their parents’ addiction.

    Sometimes it is difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel; drug abuse is like a dark cloud obscuring the possibilities of a brighter future. Before we can turn things around, we must reach out to the next generation. We must show young people that no matter how dire their current circumstances may appear, there is a way out. The road may not be easy, but with the help of loving, caring adults and their peers, there is hope and opportunity for a better future.

    These stories are repeated in every community across our great Nation. Many dedicated individuals and organizations are leading crusades against prescription drug abuse. But success comes slowly. That is why UNITE organized the first National Rx Drug Abuse Summit in 2012 (and will host a second Summit in 2013). Stakeholders discussed prescription drug problems in their communities and came together with a focus on ways to make an impact through holistic collaboration.

    UNITE’s efforts seek to impart hope: Hope for addicts seeking help. Hope for families confused and frustrated by a loved one’s addiction. Hope for those in recovery that they can once again become productive members of society. And, most important, hope that our children realize there can be a better tomorrow.

    Operation UNITE is a non-profit organization providing a holistic approach to substance abuse through law enforcement, treatment, and education initiatives.

  • California Makes Progress in Drugged Driving Legislation

    Drugged driving is a threat to public health and safety.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) 2007 National Roadside Survey found that approximately one in eight weekend, nighttime drivers tested positive for illicit drugs.[1]  In 2010, a study conducted by NHTSA found that among fatally injured drivers who were tested and the results reported, 33 percent tested positive for at least one drug.[2]   While these statistics are useful, more data is needed to determine the full extent of the problem.

    The Office of National Drug Control Policy supports efforts to obtain better information on drugged driving so that state and local governments can better tackle this growing problem.  A few weeks ago, California took an important step forward in providing better data on drugged driving. 

    On September 29, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 2552 which will distinguish the offenses of driving under the influence of alcohol, driving under the influence of any drug, and driving under the combined influence of alcohol and any drug.  The law goes into effect on January 1, 2014.  California joins New York and Hawaii as the only states to separate these three offenses. “Up to now we have had limited statistics that seemed to point to increasing drug involvement in crashes,” said Christopher J. Murphy, Director of the California Office of Traffic Safety.  “With this new legislation, we will be able to gather a greater quantity of much more detailed information on the size and scope of the problem.  It will help in law enforcement, court system, and public awareness efforts to combat this growing problem.”

    California recognizes that drugged driving is a serious threat to public health and public safety, and this law compliments other work being done in the state to address it.  The California Office of Traffic Safety considers “Alcohol and Other Drugs” a priority area and funds a number of initiatives to better understand and reduce drugged driving.  These initiatives include new drug testing equipment, grants for the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) program and Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) training, and a survey modeled on the 2007 NHTSA National Roadside Survey to determine the prevalence of drug and alcohol impaired driving.

    [1] National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Results of the 2007 National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers. U.S. Department of Transportation Report No. DOT HS 811 175. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2007.

    [2] National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Drug Involvement of Fatally Injured Drivers. U.S. Department of Transportation Report No. DOT HS 811 415. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2010. 


  • A Veterans Day Message from Director Kerlikowske

    This Veterans Day, on behalf of the entire staff at the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), I would like to express my sincere thanks to our veterans for their service to the United States. We are indebted to you for your courage and unwavering dedication.

    ONDCP is committed to strengthening and supporting our military families and veterans and supports programs such as VetCorps that further this work.  One year ago, the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) launched VetCorps to establish support for military families and service members through community-based coalitions.  Programs such as VetCorps help to provide our veterans with the support they need and deserve.

    We will continue to work today and every day throughout the year to provide services and support for our military heroes in our effort to give something back to those who are in service to our Nation.

    Learn more about our commitment to veterans in the report Strengthening Our Military Families: Meeting America’s Commitment.

  • School Nurses: Trusted Student Health Professionals and Agents of Substance Abuse Prevention

    For more than a century, school nursing services have served a critical role in public health and ensuring the academic success of students in America. Particularly over the past five decades, school nurses have become more involved with addressing students’ mental, behavioral, and emotional issues, including substance abuse prevention. In fact, according to the 2007 Government Accountability Office report School Mental Health: Role of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Factors Affecting Service Provision, school nurses spend one-third of their time providing mental health services, including those for substance abuse.

    A school nurse and student patient

    With a presence in 75 percent of the Nation’s schools, school nurses comprise a significant force of professionals who serve as prevention agents. School nurses are in touch with substance abuse trends within the school and in the greater community, enabling them to make educated assessments when students visit their offices.

    Many school nurses also spend time in classrooms providing substance abuse prevention curricula, and some with advanced training start treatment support groups. School nurses often work in teams with other specialized instructional support personnel, such as school psychologists, social workers, and counselors, to address substance abuse issues in schools.

    When the rate of prescription drug abuse began to increase rapidly, school nurses recognized the trend and took action. The National Association of School Nurses (NASN) got the word out by providing school nurses with data showing that more teens are abusing prescription drugs than illegal drugs (except for marijuana);[i] that prescription medications, along with marijuana, are the drugs of choice among 12- to 13-year-olds;[ii] and that every day, approximately 2,000 young people use a prescription pain reliever non-medically for the first time.[iii]

    The NASN provides materials to help school nurses understand and promote drug use prevention, including:

    A school nurse administers a vaccination.NASN recommends the following tips for school nurses:


    [i] Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH): National Findings, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 2012.

    [ii] Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH): National Findings, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 2012.

    [iii] SAMHSA, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (formerly the Office of Applied Studies), National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2009 and 2010.

  • HIDTA Joins Badges for Baseball

    Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler, National HIDTA Director Michael Gottlieb, and Washington-Baltimore HIDTA Director Thomas H. Carr enjoyed a beautiful autumn day as they launched the Badges for Baseball Program in Baltimore, Maryland. 

    The Badges for Baseball program aims to reshape and improve the relationship between law enforcement and youth from high-crime areas.  Police volunteers help youth refine and improve their baseball skills while also mentoring the young participants and providing positive role models.  Badges for Baseball seeks to build a safe and positive environment in which young people have fun, build character, and learn to make good decisions both on and off the field.

    Congressman Cummings, who represents the 7th Congressional District in Maryland, referred to the multi-purpose field where the event took place as Baltimore’s “Field of Dreams.”  More than 50 young people from Baltimore are expected to participate in the ongoing initiative.

    Badges for Baseball is funded in part by the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and the Washington-Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program.  The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation is a non-profit working with underprivileged youth throughout the United States through baseball and softball programming.  The Washington-Baltimore HIDTA is funded by the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program.  

    HIDTAs have recently placed an increased emphasis on prevention programs like Badges for Baseball.  Since 2008, the number of HIDTAs implementing prevention initiatives has increased from four to 20, including all five Southwest Border HIDTA regions.  This expansion of prevention initiatives illustrates ONDCP’s commitment to further integrate the law enforcement and prevention communities.     

  • Director Joins DEA for Red Ribbon Week Rally

    This week, we join millions of young people across the country to celebrate Red Ribbon Week. Students, parents and educators this week participate by pledging to lead healthy, drug free lives and wear red ribbons while participating in community-wide, anti-drug events. 


    Director Kerlikowske meets Elementary School Red Ribbon Bookmark Contest Winner, Haley Chilton. (Photo courtesy of DEA)

    Red Ribbon Week is also a time to pay tribute to DEA Special Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, whose tragic murder led to the creation of the Red Ribbon Program.  Red Ribbon Week is October 23 – 31 each year. On Wednesday, October 24, ONDCP Director Kerlikowske delivered remarks at the annual DEA Red Ribbon Rally at DEA headquarters in Arlington, VA. 


    Director Kerlikowske joins DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, Deputy Attorney General James Cole, and other officials for the singing of the National Anthem as the program begins. (Photo courtesy of DEA)


    DEA Youth Dancers from Drew Model Elementary School. (Photo courtesy of DEA)

    Deputy Attorney General James Cole, DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, Peggy Sapp, President of the National Family Partnership, and Red Ribbon Youth Contest Winners also attended. They were joined by area youth who presented dance and musical performances for the audience. 


    Afro Blue, Howard University's Vocal Jazz Ensemble, receives plaque after performance and poses with DEA Administrator Leonhart (Photo courtesy of DEA)

    To learn more about Red Ribbon Week and take the pledge to live drug-free, please visit www.redribbonweek.org.