By Eric Heinz
Lauren Gallegos said she knows firsthand the pitfalls drug abuse causes people.
Gallegos, who started her new position with the Wellness and Prevention Center at San Clemente High School, said she’s seen many of her personal friends abuse opioids and eventually heroin—an all-too-familiar trend that’s gripped the nation and compelled federal action.
Gallegos, the new community prevention director, grew up in San Clemente.
“I started to lose people I grew up with, some I just knew from going to school with and some I was closer to, and seeing this happen again and again, it just made me realize that prevention is important,” Gallegos said.
Gallegos is overseeing the coalitions under the Wellness and Prevention Center, which includes the community-based coalition and the youth coalition.
Her position is funded by the Drug Free Communities grant the Wellness and Prevention Center received last month.
Gallegos said by using the Orange County Healthy Kids Survey, which is administered every two years, she hopes to see a five percent decrease in students who report they’ve used marijuana or alcohol, from the 2015-16 school year, of students in grades seven, nine and 11. The reduction is required in order for the center to continue receiving its grant funding.
“We also want to increase the perception of harm, and so we want students to think that their friends don’t think it’s OK to use these substances, we don’t want them to think their parents would approve of it, and we want them to think that it’s dangerous,” Gallegos said. “As students get older, we see that perception of harm go down, so we’re doing a lot of community education…to hopefully change that a little bit.”
Gallegos said she hopes to reach students as young as elementary school as well as the older students.
“We’re working to create a social norm that (taking drugs and alcohol) isn’t a social norm,” Gallegos said. “Not everybody drinks, so we want to (show) this percentage of students at your school don’t use marijuana or drink. Instead of showing statistics of this many kids take (drugs and alcohol), we’re doing the opposite.”
Gallegos will also start counseling students as she becomes acclimated in her new position. She is been a substance abuse social worker with experience the recovery center Phoenix House in Santa Ana. The Wellness and Prevention Center is anticipating the latest results of The Healthy Kids Survey in Orange County, which asks students to report if they’ve abused substances.