Valley residents begin attack on substance-abuse | AspenTimes.com

Valley residents begin attack on substance-abuse

Naomi Havlen

According to the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation, it’s about time Aspen residents got together to discuss the biggest threat to this community: alcoholism and substance abuse.Foundation Executive Director Kris Marsh said the idea was hatched last fall, based on an assessment the nonprofit did about three years ago identifying substance abuse as a major concern in the Roaring Fork Valley.And while the conference was being planned, a number of drug-related deaths and suicides in the community early this year reinforced the foundation’s belief that something should be done.”We feel very much that we’re on the right track and we can begin to discuss this in a public forum,” Marsh said.The Divided Self: Crisis in Paradise is being held all day Wednesday at the Hotel Jerome. Beginning at 8:30 a.m., the conference includes panels of locals and experts in the field of substance abuse, mental health and suicide.The name The Divided Self comes from a book about schizophrenia by R.D. Laing. Marsh said it’s a metaphor for Aspen.”We portray to the world this image of beauty, affluence and perfection, and yet there is this inner self that’s not as perfect as we would appear,” Marsh said. “We have a goal of integrating ourselves, of having that balance between external and internal, between the beautiful and where we’re a little mad.”The last conference that was similar dates to 1995, when the Community Forum formed under the auspices of The Aspen Institute. The 26-person task force wrote a report in 1997 identifying substance abuse as the No. 1 health problem in the area. It noted that “little can be accomplished without altering everyone’s perspective and obtaining their commitment, participation and support for change.””Discussion is one thing, and action is quite another,” Marsh said. “This is definitely an interactive conference – not just listening to lectures, but people conversing about the issues.”A decision has to be made, said Aspen Counseling Center Director Jeff Kremer, and it should involve members of the community.”The idea of the conference is to engage the community in dialogues about this,” Kremer said. “We can supply data, but the dialogue is what kind of community to we want to be? Are we satisfied with the level of substance abuse and suicide we have? Or should we acknowledge what it is and do something about it?”Marsh has said that the conference will succeed if just one life is saved. The conference will be written in a report, as well as filmed for use in the future, so it can be shown to groups like large employers, businesses or philanthropists.”I think we want to look at lofty potentials [like changing public policy] as well as specific recommendations, like a better publicized local hotline for crisis, or having more counselors available to work on a sliding fee scale,” Marsh said.As an organization that funds other nonprofits, the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation will look at the recommendations and see if they can be implemented at existing entities like the Aspen Counseling Center, or Aspen Valley Hospital, she said.”We’re open to listening to what people have to say and coming up with the commitment to create action, new programs, and enhance existing programs,” she said. “This is not a one-shot deal, it’s literally the beginning of an action agenda, and we’re willing to provide the leadership to keep this thing going.”Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com