Community initiatives aim to help youth overcome substance abuse

[anvplayer video=”5142353″ station=”998122″]

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There are some kids who grow up with a lot of adverse factors in their life such as abuse, exposure to drugs or drug addiction, and, sadly, many other factors as well.

“My mom had a boyfriend at the time and they were really toxic and me and my sister and my brothers, you know, we like did what we had to like, basically to survive,” said Freddie Garcia, a recovering substance abuse disorder patient.

Young New Mexicans, like 18-year-old Garcia, find themselves growing up in difficult and adverse situations all over the state.

With tough home lives at such a young age, some look to drug use for an escape.

“My drug of choice was fentanyl and it was pretty bad,” Garcia said.

It’s common to hear about addiction in adults and how to address the problem after the fact, but what about kids who are just getting introduced to the addictive culture like Garcia was?

David Burke and his wife Jennifer Weiss-Burke co-own the Serenity Mesa recovery center in the South Valley, where they help young people, ages 14-21, recover from addiction.

The couple’s not foreign to the world of addiction either.

“She had lost her son to a heroin overdose in 2011,” David Burke said, “and I was in recovery and I am still in recovery to be 12 years in December.”

In the recovery center, they see kids from all over the state. Most of the kids are in the system, but they share a few other common denominators too.

“I’d say every kid who comes to us has some form of trauma, whether it’s from the family or from being in the system or abuse,” Burke said.

And the most startling commonality between these teens?

“I’d probably say about 98% of all of our kids right now are battling fentanyl and it’s been that way for the last year and a half,” Burke said.

Project Echo is a UNM health nonprofit with community-based initiatives, aimed at recognizing kids who, at a young age, might be around drugs or dealing with other adverse issues at home.

“Anyone, really, who works with children and adolescents, five-to-18 years old, and try to prevent situations where children are at risk, have mental health issues, substance use issues or are at risk for suicide,” Dr. Joanna Katzman, a UNM neurologist, said. 

With programs like these, the hope is to save kids and let them know someone’s there for them.

“I wasn’t, like, having a life that a middle schooler should have, you know? And it would have been nice for someone to step in and ask me what was going on,” Garcia said.

Now, the hope is that Project Echo’s new program will offer a chance for kids, in situations like Garcia’s, to reach out and get help with battling these issues at such a young age.