The UNIDAD Coalition met recently in Weslaco, Texas, for its annual 'Redirecting the Pipeline' conference. From left to right: Andy Rodriguez, Melissa Alviar, Steven Jenkins (DEA McAllen), Shane Bonnette (HIDTA South Texas), Ed Townsend (McAllen DEA), Joel Morales, Jeanice Gonzalez, Dr. Susan Dalterio (UTSA), Eddie Quintanilla, Vianca Vieyra, Judge Robert Frances (Dallas), Esmeralda Yado.
The UNIDAD Coalition met recently in Weslaco, Texas, for its annual ‘Redirecting the Pipeline’ conference. From left to right: Andy Rodriguez, Melissa Alviar, Steven Jenkins (DEA McAllen), Shane Bonnette (HIDTA South Texas), Ed Townsend (McAllen DEA), Joel Morales, Jeanice Gonzalez, Dr. Susan Dalterio (UTSA), Eddie Quintanilla, Vianca Vieyra, Judge Robert Frances (Dallas), Esmeralda Yado.

UNIDAD Coalition recently hosted its two-day Annual “Redirecting The Pipeline” Conference in collaboration with the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program from the United States Office of National Drug Control Policy, Weslaco Police Department, and Weslaco Crime Stoppers.

The conference is held annually in an effort to provide continued education to our law enforcement, social workers, school counselors, nurses and other professionals in the area with a series of topics that directly impact the Rio Grande Valley communities.

This year’s the topics included the legalization of marijuana and the impact it has had in the state of Colorado; a focus on recovery from substance abuse as well as insight as to how to better understand the recovery process and how to provide support; a session on prescription drug abuse, as well as the emerging synthetic agents; and sessions focusing on teens facing mental health issues, and drug treatment courts.

The Conference began with a welcoming from Captain Gerardo Oliva from the Weslaco Police Department and Ricardo Rodriguez, Hidalgo County District Attorney. Chelsey Clarke from the Rocky Mountain HIDTA started the conference with a general session focused on  discussing data trends relate to the current issues that the state of Colorado is facing related to the legalization of marijuana. Clarke discussed many of the alleged “pros” or supporting arguments from those supporting legalization and then provided a clear picture of the negative impact that legalization has had on the local economy, resident health, and overall wellbeing of the state.

Several sessions continued after the opening remarks and key note speaker. Sessions provided professionals. Guest speakers Violeta Davila and Irwin Mendoza, from Behavioral Health Solutions of South Texas provided local and recent data from the Regional Needs Assessment conducted yearly by their Prevention Resource Center program. Information collected has been gathered through surveys and focus groups performed with local community members and additional data has been collected with the support of local partners.

Information presented in the session highlighted current issues South Texas is experiencing such as the increasing rates of prescription drug abuse among adolescents as well as the rates of underage drinking and binge drinking. In concurrent sessions, LCDC Eluterio Blanco from UTRGV spoke on the topic of Understanding Recovery. Blanco’s presentation challenged attendees to rethink what they currently see as recovery and how to perceive/treat those in recovery.

Mission Regional Hospital Forensic Nurse Evonna Garcia shared her experience as a medical professional and what she has seen as a result of underage drinking/alcohol consumption. Garcia, spoke of sexual assaults, sexual abuse, alcohol overdoses and alcohol fueled violence, amongst other cases.

At the conclusion of the first day, Hidalgo County Felony District Attorney and member of the Hidalgo County Young Lawyers Association, Lauren Sepulveda, spoke of the increase in drug and alcohol intoxication cases involving young adults. Sepulveda also spoke of the role the Young Lawyers Association has been taking in terms of outreach in the community with young adults in an effort to reduce and prevent alcohol and drug related crimes in which Lauren Sepulveda, was able to discuss drug and alcohol intoxication in young adults. She also informed our attendees of how Young Lawyers Association are working on reducing and prevention these situations from happening.

Day two of the conference began with a general session in which Assistant Special Agent Steve Jenkins, (DEA McAllen), introduced the documentary “Chasing the Dragon” a phrase often referred to by those suffering from addition, yet constantly seeking the feeling of their first high. The FBI and DEA worked collaboratively on this documentary to educate the community, especially students and young adults about the dangers of addiction. This screening was then immediately followed up but a panel discussion, of law enforcement and individuals who have personally been affected by addiction whether as individuals or because of loved one. The discussions were personal and transparent, and encouraged dialogue in terms of what a community can do to prevent opioid abuse.

As in the day prior, attendees were able to choose their sessions for the remainder of the day. Sessions available included topics of “Emerging Synthetic Agents”, “Teens Facing Mental Health Issues”, and “A Fresh Look At Drug Treatment Courts”. Dr. Susan Dalterio (UTSA) shared her expertise and research on synthetic drugs and how their composition is constantly changing, making them more potent and more dangerous. As professionals working within the community and seeing what the youth and young adults are being exposed to, it is beneficial to understand what is available to them.

During the “Don’t Judge Me”: Teens Facing Mental Health Issues session, presented by Dr. Nancy Razo, PhD. (UTRGV Department of School Psychology) discussed how to approach and help youth that may be dealing with mental health issues. Dr. Razo supplemented her presentation by co-presenting with a young adult who dealt with depression and self-harm. The co-presenter discussed the importance of having a support system and aftercare. The final session of the day was “A Fresh Look at Drug Treatment Courts” by Judge Robert Frances from the Criminal Court District in Dallas. Judge Frances discussed a variety of diversion programs being implement in the Dallas court systems. The programs have been implemented in an effort to lower incarceration rates, offer treatment options and reduce recidivism.

In addition to presenters, conference attendees had access to several exhibitors promoting services and resources available in and outside of the Rio Grande Valley. UNIDAD Coalition would like to point out that during both days, everyone who attended was encouraged to visit with the information booths in order to enhance awareness about the services and resources currently available for the RGV community. This was also an excellent networking experience for everyone to share their thoughts between sessions.

The UNIDAD coalition and Behavioral Health Solutions of South Texas, want to express our sincere gratitude to Mr. Shane Bonnette and South Texas HIDTA, the numerous volunteers from the parent involvement department of the PSJA ISD, Weslaco Crime Stoppers, Weslaco Police Department, the UTRGV student volunteers representing the ASAP club, Entravision in McAllen, Mission Crime Stoppers, La Morenita bakery in Edinburg for their pan dulce, and the Palm Aire hotel in Weslaco for graciously hosting the event. In addition, the UNIDAD coalition would also like to express gratitude to every entity, individual and coalition member that continually supports this annual event.

Our Hidalgo County community is invited to become involved and volunteer with any of the activities and events that UNIDAD Coalition organizes. If you would like more information about how to become involved and contribute to the effort against drugs, please contact me at (956) 787-70004 ext. 14 or by email at [email protected]