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Coaching, Sunday school, family meals, flex time help people to prevent substance abuse

When people coach basketball, teach Sunday school, sit down for family meals or offer employees flex time to be with their families, they are often involved in preventing substance abuse without realizing it.

LInda Thompson

Linda Thompson

Prevention is simply helping young people make positive choices,” said Linda Thompson, executive director of the Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council Prevention Center at 8104 E. Sprague.

She seeks to connect the community, especially the faith community, and promote use of the center’s resources on the prevention of addiction, drug and alcohol abuse, and violence associated with the abuse.  Congregations can request the resources any time, or specifically for Drug- and Alcohol-Free Week in October.

While many churches open their buildings for Alcoholics Anonymous groups, Linda hopes more will include outreach to people in recovery among their ministries. Part of it, she suggests, can be awareness that alcohol and drug abusers are “people who live and work among us.”

The center has videos, presentations, books and speakers to help congregations make a conscious effort to provide alternative activities that encourage youth and adults to make healthy choices.
She also wants to know about programs congregations offer.

Linda felt she made good choices when she was growing up in Spokane.  After graduating from Central Valley High in 1971, she attended college two years and worked as an administrative assistant before entering banking.  Her life and family, however, were not protected from the bad choice of an impaired driver.

Among photos on the memory wall at the office of the Prevention Center is one of Trevor Pierce, her three-year-old son from her first marriage.  He was killed in 1986 by someone who had 17 arrests for driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol.

Trevor was sitting on a pony cart before a parade in La Center, Wash., where he was visiting his paternal grandparents, when he was hit by the car.  A 23-year-old woman on a bike was killed, too.  His grandfather and sister Katee were injured and hospitalized.

Honoring Trevor’s life motivates her commitment to prevent addiction and substance abuse, to be compassionate to people she meets and to challenge systems that made it possible for someone who was arrested so many times for DUI, but never convicted, to still have been on the road.

At first she told her story as part of a victims’ panel in Coeur d’Alene.  Courts ordered DUI offenders to listen to the stories of victims of DUI crashes.  Eventually, she helped form Spokane’s DUI Victims’ Panel.

In the process, she learned about the Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council (GSSAC), which began in 1982 as a grassroots coalition of community, faith, business and school leaders who sought to reduce substance abuse because of its effects on homes, work places and crime rates.

In 1989, the federal drug bill authorized funding community efforts to mobilize against substance abuse and compile data, stories and trends to help educate the public.

Since Linda started as director at GSSAC in 1993, she has completed a degree in general studies in 1995 at Eastern Washington University and a master’s in educational leadership in 2002 at Gonzaga University.
GSSAC educates people on risk and protection factors for teens, factors that also contribute to substance abuse, delinquency, pregnancy, dropping out of school and violence. 

“Choices to smoke or drink may lead to other bad choices that affect teens’ whole lives,” she said. “The earlier a person drinks, the more likely he or she will have problems later.

“People can be addicted to anything,” Linda added. “It’s hard to break addictions.  Life is hard.”
“Our goal is to reduce risk factors and enhance protective factors,” she said.  “Nurturing by families, schools, communities and peers provides opportunities, skills and recognition that lead to attachment, commitment and bonding. The goal is to develop healthy beliefs and relationships that lead to healthy behaviors.”

Linda Thompson

LindaThompson in her office at the Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council

Prevention means giving youth opportunities to make positive choices.  For example, Washington Drug-Free Youth creates leadership opportunities in drug-free school and community activities.

In addition to information dissemination and prevention training, which include media literacy and the Meth Watch Program, GSSAC is involved with community coalitions, such as the Spokane Community Mobilization Against Substance Abuse, the Drug-Free Communities Support Program, and Washington Drug-Free Youth.

We create community norms that foster prevention,” she said.  “For example, a norm may be to have a high school graduation kegger.  To change it, we promote senior all-night, alcohol-free graduation parties.  However, we found we had to discourage use of alcohol at parents’ events to raise funds for the parties.”

Prevention also may mean discouraging adults from buying children T-shirts that advertise beer or challenging St. Patrick’s Day ads or local parade activities that promote beer drinking.

“Standards parents set send a message to children,” said Linda, who served five years on the Governor’s Council for Substance Abuse.  She also serves on the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media Board, because media literacy is part of substance-abuse prevention. 

The tobacco and alcohol industries hire the best marketers and lawyers.  A recent beer ad shows troops returning from Iraq with people in an airport clapping for them.  Then it switches to the beer, calling it ‘the American beer,’” she said.

“Similarly, Super Bowl ads suggest the alcohol company is our friend, even though people who drive impaired destroy families and communities,” she said.

Media education includes meeting with local reporters and TV anchors, urging them to use the words, “crash,” “wreck” or “collision,” not “accident,” if someone is DUI,” she said. 

Linda continues to educate people because she wants to make Trevor’s life count by changing systems.  The man who killed him was convicted of vehicular homicide and vehicular assault.  He served only 13 months of a 27-month sentence.

“I decided to work on the system, rather than focus on the person who killed Trevor.  It would not bring him back,” she said.  “I find this work healing.”

Linda married again after the crash, and her son, Nate, was born on what would have been Trevor’s fifth birthday.

In her work, Linda has met people who have lost family members because of impaired drivers, people who are in drug and alcohol treatment programs, people who self medicate to escape their pains and people who have experienced domestic violence.

“We don’t know what the person standing next to us may be suffering,” Linda said, “so we need to be compassionate.  Each person has a story related to destructive forces of alcohol and drugs.”

Linda, who grew up in a Baptist church and has attended a community church, calls for sensitivity toward people in recovery.

“My faith pushes me to do good work every day to make the community better,” she said. 
“I am grateful that God gives me the opportunity and strength to give back through my work, scouting, vigils, prayer chains and circles.  I share my spirituality by being a doer, by walking the talk,” Linda continued.

“I pray people will realize their blessings and how important it is to have each other,” she said. 

For information, call 922-8383 or visit gssacpreventioncenter.com.