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Council facilitates substance abuse education and prevention to save lives 

By Deidre Jacobson

Linda Thompson shows display of awards GSSAC has.

When Linda Thompson facilitates a DUI (driving under the influence) Victims Panel and sees lights come on as someone understands consequences of impaired driving, she feels empowered in her work of substance abuse prevention and education.

Linda, the executive director of the Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council (GSSAC) since 1993, said the driving force behind her commitment to help people make positive choices is her wish to honor the life of Trevor, her three-year-old son who was hit and killed by an incapacitated driver in 1986. The driver, who had 17 arrests for driving under the influence (DUI), served only 13 months of a 27-month sentence.

She decided to work on the system, not focus on that person.

GSSAC began in 1982, created by community leaders concerned about the impact of drugs and alcohol. It offers substance abuse prevention, education and advocacy, and awareness of the role of media literacy in prevention.

The legalization of marijuana made her work more difficult because of downsides few see. 

“It has not turned out the way it was marketed. Societal costs may outweigh revenue generated by taxes on marijuana,” Linda said.

Today, media are saturated with ads and articles that normalize its use, said Linda, a 1971 graduate of Central Valley High School, who attended college two years and was an administrative assistant before going into banking. 

Since working at GSSAC, she earned a general studies degree at Eastern Washington University in 1995 and a master’s in educational leadership at Gonzaga in 2002.  She is also on the board of the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media for media education.

Linda listed expectations about legalizing marijuana and what has happened.

• People thought the illegal market would end, but it still operates.

People thought jails would be emptied of minor marijuana offenders, but there’s no significant reduction in jail population because few minor marijuana offenders were previously jailed.

• People thought youth access would be reduced by moving marijuana from black market to a regulated system. While the 2016 Washington State Healthy Youth survey showed no increased use, it showed a decrease in the perception of harm among eighth graders.  Social norms and adult role models also affect youth attitudes. 

People thought production, processing and retail would be “appropriately sited,” but 94 percent of the county is licensed for marijuana processing.  Many operations are in neighborhoods.

People thought taxes would generate revenue for prevention, law enforcement and treatment. While funds have been channeled toward substance abuse treatment for targeted groups, public health and research, it is still difficult for many to access treatment, and prevention funds have been cut.

GSSAC struggles to meet needs for education and prevention. Its staff, once 12, is now three because of funding cuts. Its office is now at 200 N. Mullan Rd., Ste. 102, in Spokane Valley.

“While marijuana sales are more than $4 million per day, GSSAC receives only $12,000 annually from marijuana tax revenues for prevention education.  Of $336 million in marijuana tax revenues, $184 million was moved to the general fund and to help fund schools,” said Linda. “It’s frustrating because we know what works but don’t have resources to make it happen.”

Schools, emergency departments and parents see harmful effects of youth usage, she said.

“Marketing shows marijuana use as popular.  Marketers know how to attract youth and adults,” said Linda, who was glad the recent legislature passed changes to marijuana advertising laws, restricting business signs, outdoor advertising and billboards.

Signs must say only persons 21 years or older may purchase or possess marijuana products, and signs cannot depict plants or products, or use movie or cartoon characters to appeal to children.  Ads are also prohibited on public or private vehicles. 

Another new law authorizes retail marijuana outlets to give a free lockable drug box to adults and qualifying patients aged 18 to reduce access to youth. 

Other new laws include one on impaired driving and one making a fourth (instead of fifth) DUI offense a felony.

Linda, who grew up Presbyterian, said her faith helps her persevere.

She would like more faith groups to be involved.

“Congregations help people in recovery and help people whose lives are impacted by addiction, but they can do more,” she said.

They can challenge some proposals, such as a Washington State University in Pullman plan to sell alcohol in its stadium, a bill to expand alcohol service in movie theaters and a bill to expand free alcohol tasting in grocery stores and farmer’s markets. 

More alcohol consumption locales means alcohol is more accessible to people in recovery. It leads youth to think they can’t have a good time without it, she said.

Washington Drug Free Youth (WDFY) is a voluntary drug testing program of GSSAC’s Prevention Center. Washington is the 22nd state to offer a Drug-Free Youth Program. There are now 24 chapters in county schools.

WDFY offers youth, in grades six to 12, an incentive to become or remain drug-free. Businesses benefit from drug free youth programs. Members prove they are drug free by voluntarily submitting to random drug tests. . 

Linda, who served several years on the Governor’s Council for Substance Abuse, said impaired driving is on the rise with cell phones.  Studies also show one in three drivers has prescribed medications (with potential for impairment), illegal drugs, marijuana or alcohol in their systems as they drive, she said.

“We are not trying to stop legalized marijuana, but to keep it away from youth and help them make good choices,” Linda said.

“We need programs like Guiding Good Choices, placing professionals in all schools.  East Valley and West Central neighborhood coalitions receive funds from the Washington State Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery for student assistants,” she said.

Linda envisions a future with churches, schools, businesses and families working together to help youth and adults understand the consequences of their choices.

“I want recovery destigmatized, so people have education and support to live successful lives.  I became involved because of my son.  I continue for my children, grandchildren and all children,” she said. “Lives can be saved.

“Our goal is to reduce risk factors and enhance protective factors,” she said.  “Nurturing by families, schools, communities and peers leads to commitment and bonding so healthy relationships lead to healthy behaviors.”

GSSAC informs people so they can talk their children about their expectations and be role models.

It has resources for families, schools and congregations. Staff are available to do presentations.

For information, call 922-8383 or email

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