'Stand Up AJ'

Apache Junction has a new drug-prevention group

By Richard Dyer
Twitter: @RHDyer
Posted 8/27/20

A drug-prevention group forming in Apache Junction recently held a Zoom meeting with 27 participants. They ranged from law-enforcement officials to educators and National Guard Counter Drug Task …

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'Stand Up AJ'

Apache Junction has a new drug-prevention group


A drug-prevention group forming in Apache Junction recently held a Zoom meeting with 27 participants. They ranged from law-enforcement officials to educators and National Guard Counter Drug Task Force representatives.

“So, I have to tell you the response is just overwhelming me. It’s actually got me a little bit emotional here just to see how many people are coming together for this cause that is greatly near and dear to my heart, as I know it is to all of yours,” Apache Junction resident Shelly Verley, coalition director, said. “I just thank you so much for your time.”

The group is to replace a drug-prevention coalition that started serving Apache Junction in 2008 and is dissolving, she said.

One of the orders of business Aug. 26 was to choose a name. Getting the most votes was “Stand Up AJ.”

The group also listened to a presentation on the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program by Cpl. Marshall Harshman, Apache Junction Police Department’s community and media liaison officer, and AJPD Officer Carl Halperin, who is the D.A.R.E. officer for Apache Junction High School.

D.A.R.E. was founded in 1983 and is a police officer-led series of classroom lessons that teach children how to resist peer pressure and live productive drug- and violence-free lives, according to https://dare.org.

“It’s actually a very effective program,” AJPD Cpl. Harshman, who worked as a D.A.R.E. officer for five years, said. “The new curriculum is now called ‘Keepin’ it real’ and rather than focusing on individual drugs — the dangers of those drugs — the main focus of the program now is to talk about some resistance strategies.”

D.A.R.E. is now a decision-making model — define, assess, respond, evaluate, he said.

“It actually gets to the symptom of the problem rather than just dealing with drugs as the problem,” Cpl. Harshman said.

One focus is how to deal with bullies — including those on social media, Officer Halperin said.

“The idea about law-enforcement being involved in prevention started really with the D.A.R.E program. Since that time, D.A.R.E. has progressed,” he said. “We went from, basically, teaching the evils of drug use to teaching things beyond drug use (such as) how to deal with bullies; cyber-bullying is kind of a big thing that goes on now on social media.”

Students go through scenarios in his classes, Officer Halperin said.

“I go into the classroom and ... we teach resistance, but it’s more than that — it’s critical thinking.... ‘What is being asked of me? What are my choices? How can I make the best possible choice for me?’” he said. “And then the evaluation aspect of that is as soon as you make that choice, you’ve got to evaluate it, right? ‘Was that a good choice? Could I have done something different?’ And we go through different scenarios in the classroom.”

The drug-prevention group also saw a slideshow of statistics from the Pinal County portion of a 2018 Arizona youth survey on substance use, exposure to violence, driving under the influence and other factors.

Leaders are needed for the coalition, such as a chair, vice-chair, secretary and treasurer.

The group plans to meet by Zoom at 2 p.m. the last Wednesday of each month.

“Among our first tasks will be to collect and analyze data from our community to see where the needs lie and how best to address those needs with the overarching goal of reducing drug-use in Apache Junction,” Coalition Director Verley said in an email.

For more information, contact Ms. Verley at srverley@gmail.com or Arizona National Guard Counter Drug Task Force representative Sgt. Ashley Thompson at ashley.l.thompson32.mil@mail.mil.