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Friday, May 11, 2012 - VCU nurses show youths the dangers of drugs and alcohol

As a nurse clinician at VCU Medical Center’s Surgery Trauma Intensive Care Unit, Christi Adams, R.N., has seen her share of trauma victims, and she estimates that a majority of the cases the medical center handles involve drugs or alcohol. But what truly pains her, she said, especially as a mother, is seeing how many young people pass through the doors, forced to grapple with injury, disability and emotional toil — all because they failed to stop and think.

“As a nursing staff, we kept asking ourselves, ‘If these kids could just see what it is they could be facing, would they make the same choices? Would they choose to get behind the wheel impaired, or get in the car with someone who’s impaired?’” she said.

From these questions sprang Get Real-Alcohol/Drug Choices and Consequences for Youth (GR-ACY), a multifaceted educational program designed to show juveniles abusing drugs and alcohol just how much damage to themselves and others their decisions can cause. GR-ACY is part of the VCU Medical Center’s Injury and Violence Prevention Program, a multidisciplinary coalition of health care providers working together to reduce and prevent injury and violence in the region.

Adams, who serves as GR-ACY’s project leader, looked at similar hospital intervention programs but said she found that many only provided walk-throughs and lectured about the dangers of substance abuse.

 “We wanted to do more than that,” Adams said. “A walk-through isn’t what’s going to make the difference. Kids can still detach from that experience and say, ‘That’s not going to happen to me.’”

The program began accepting referrals in 2009 with the intention that for every hands-on experience, participants would be expected to reflect on them. Adams and her team of volunteers work closely with the juvenile courts, local police and other agencies.

As participants observe emergency department intakes, visit the bedsides of intensive care patients and observe rehabilitation and support group sessions, they’re asked to journal and compose essays to further engage in these experiences. Seeing the victims of drunk driving accidents in the span of a few hours in the emergency room really emphasizes the far-reaching impacts of drugs and alcohol, Adams added.

Throughout their hospital observations, participants are paired with nurses and other health care providers — all of whom volunteer their time — in part because nurses have the unique ability to convey complex medical issues in a language teens can more readily understand, Adams said, but also because nurses see such a wide variety of patients during a shift.

Having participants work directly with nurses also helps the hands-on portion of the program, Adams said, in which participants get to experience what it’s like to be secured to a backboard and rushed to an operating room or to use a wheelchair and navigate daily chores with lifelong disabilities.

“They can’t detach from that in ways they could have before,” Adams said.
Guest speakers, educational workshops and a 20-hour community service component round out the program, but once participants leave, GR-ACY continues to check on their progress for years. Adams said that of the 45 youths they’ve worked with, 75 percent have not gone on to reoffend.

“Considering that the referrals we receive are second- and third-time offenders, I think that speaks volumes,” Adams said.
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