West Linn's Community Living Above organization selected for national teen drug prevention pilot program

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Members of the West Linn High School Teen Advisory Board talk with students at Rosemont Ridge Middle School earlier this spring.The West Linn Community Task Force has grown steadily in recent years, with increased teen participation at West Linn High School and in the greater West Linn community. With support and encouragement from students, the teen drug prevention organization has new name and, more importantly, some exciting news.

Now called Community Living Above (CLA) — the organization changed to a more positive name following teen input from the high school — the organization is based on community collaboration for a drug-free teen youth. CLA was recently selected for Facing Addiction's Pilot Project, making West Linn one of just 15 cities to be selected by the national nonprofit — which provides resources for drug abuse prevention and support on a national level.

Facing Addiction's Pilot Program aims to incorporate local-level resources for teens struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction, as well as reform public response and perception of substance abuse disorders in West Linn through a grassroots-driven campaign. Community Living Above President Pam Pearce says she's excited for her organization's new partnership with Facing Addiction, and hopes to remove the negative stigmas associated with substance abuse.

"For me it's all about taking this project and bringing it to the light. Addiction starts early, substance abuse starts early, and prevention can too," Pearce says. "The project, in a nutshell, is to engage, to educate, and to empower. This affects one of every three homes in our country. Everyone knows what it is but no one wants it, rightly so, but this is not a disease that you can wish away or tell yourself you're going to grow out of."

According to the 2015 Oregon Healthy Teens Survey, 3.9 percent of Oregon 11th-graders reported abusing prescription pills at least once or twice in the last month, and 31.5 percent had similarly consumed alcohol in that same time period. According to Facing Addiction, 21 million people suffer from a substance abuse disorder, yet only 10 percent of those people are treated, According to the National Institute of Drug Addiction, teens with family members who suffer from substance abuse are also more susceptible to addiction.

Pearce says the Pilot Project will create an action network, so that community members know where to go for prevention and support information, as well as what to do in times of crisis. The network will sync up with Facing Addiction, providing something of a guideline and rubric for West Linn and its residents. Pearce says the Community Living Above website will eventually have a comprehensive list of resources — some of which are already on the site — including people within the community who can help with drug prevention and support.

"I'm focused on the prevention piece, but I also want real resources, because when you're in crisis, you're not going to have the fortitude to calmly open up your computer and research," Pearce says. "I want to create a flow chart, so that in crisis, people know the name of our organization, know about our website and what to do with the resources they find there."TIDINGS FILE PHOTO - West Linn High School students listened to a schoolwide presentation hosted by Community Living Above in November, and the CLA's Teen Advisory Board holds monthly meetings at the school.

She's currently in the process of recruiting team leaders who will head different pieces of the action network. That list of leaders already includes West Linn Police Sergeant Mike Stradley, parent Alison Mann, and Alano Club advocate and long-term recovering addict Jim Coshow among others. Each leader represents a different sector of society and brings something different to the table.

"One of the underlying missions is to eliminate the negative stigma around alcoholism and addiction," says Coshow, who reached out to Pearce about getting involved after hearing the news that Community Living Above had been selected as a Pilot Program. "To rally the troops in recovery and understand that their stories have a lot of power is where I think I'll be utilized. In the past that negative stigma has kept us in the shadows, and until we let the public know that there is a lot of us, and we're very much engaged in our communities, we probably aren't going to have much pull in policy. It's time for us to recover out loud."

Stradley, meanwhile, says the West Linn Police Department is excited to join forces with Community Living Above. He says while he is participating as a member of local law enforcement, he wants to assure the community that his role is around teen drug prevention and support.

"I always want to be careful from a law enforcement perspective, because people think of being arrested when law enforcement gets involved," he says. "Unfortunately that does happen on some occasions and has to happen on some occasions, but all of us in law enforcement are well aware that we're never going to enforce our way out of the drug addiction crisis.

"Thirty-thousand people died of opioid overdoses last year, surpassing a lot of other deaths. It's a gigantic problem, and arresting people is not the solution. It's temporary and not long-term. So we're hopeful this will work from an education standpoint, and that the community can see this as something we all can get behind."

Pearce, who is in long-term recovery for alcohol addiction, starts every Community Living Above meeting by telling people of her own history with substance abuse. She says sharing personal stories surrounding substance abuse is the best way recovering addicts can give back. She says if Community Living Above's Pilot Program can add one thing to the West Linn community, it would be removing the negative stigmas related to the disease while starting more open and honest discourse.

"I grew up in Lake Oswego. I won biggest partier and best dressed. … I'm a recovering alcoholic. But God knows I'm not a failure. It took an act of God and perseverance, and that's possible for every person who suffers from this," Pearce says. "We're just talking about the truth, and the truth is not scary. It seems scary to get there, but when you're in the truth it's just the truth."

"The best news of the whole thing, and the message I want to get out, is that your children don't have to have this (addiction disease). It's a preventable illness, as long as … parents can start talking about it."

Community Living Above holds regular meetings for interested students at West Linn High School during school hours, and will hold a parent-only informational meeting next October. For more information surrounding teen drug addiction, or to get involved with Community Living Above, go to TIDINGS FILE PHOTO - West Linn High School students listened to a schoolwide presentation hosted by Community Living Above in November, and the CLA's Teen Advisory Board holds monthly meetings at the school. or TIDINGS FILE PHOTO - West Linn High School students listened to a schoolwide presentation hosted by Community Living Above in November, and the CLA's Teen Advisory Board holds monthly meetings at the school..

Contact West Linn Tidings reporter Andrew Kilstrom at 503-636-1281 ext. 112 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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