April 2, 2019 -- On Thursday, April 4, Westchester County will help to launch CODA Weeks. The peer-driven prevention program highlights paths to substance abuse, and empowers youth to become positive decision-makers, seek early intervention and support friends and peers who may be headed down the path to drug addiction. A kick-off event will be held at White Plains High School, 550 North Street at 9:30 a.m. The event will include appearances by County Executive George Latimer, founder of the harris project Stephanie Marquesano, White Plains High School students and staff, and Westchester County’s Departments of Community Mental Health and Health.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer said: “Westchester County is excited to partner with our high schools and community organizations to promote education and awareness of co-occurring disorders. We hope that CODA Weeks empower youth to become positive decision-makers, seek early intervention if they have a problem, and step in if they have friends and peers that may be headed down the wrong path.”

CODA (Co-Occurring Disorders Awareness) is the harris project’s innovative program that encourages youth to become leaders in the fight to end substance misuse and addiction. For this year’s 3rd Annual CODA Weeks, all Westchester County public high schools received a celebration box for use from April 1 to April 15.  Included in the celebration boxes are informational materials, as well as suggested daily announcements, easy to do activities and all necessary supplies for successful CODA Weeks. New for this year is the launch of the 2-star CODA logo and awareness campaign, designed to bring awareness of co-occurring disorders to an even larger audience. CODA programming was piloted in 16 local high schools in the Spring of 2017. 

On March 20, 2019 Westchester County Executive George Latimer, the Department of Community Mental Health, the County Youth Bureau, the harris project, Montefiore Hudson Valley Collaborative and Student Assistance Services Corporation hosted the second Annual Youth Summit at the Westchester County Center. The event was a unique opportunity for students, educators and health professionals to come together with civic leaders and elected officials, to discuss the reasons teens may turn to substances, and explore methods of prevention. The theme of the Youth Summit was Co-Occurring Disorders Awareness (CODA), Youth as Voices of Change. Over 390 students from 46 Westchester County High Schools gathered together for the event, which included a series of break-out workshops that addressed topics such as leading change, mindfulness, social media and trends, transformation through the arts and sports, creating connections and supporting friends and peers. Stress, anxiety, depression, ADHD and additional mental health disorders, trauma and sports injury were all highlighted as challenges that can lead to substance misuse, and the students discussed ways they to increase awareness, create change and improve outcomes. In addition, students received training in some of the components of the CODA Weeks Celebration Boxes to return to their schools ready to make positive impact.

The harris project founder Stephanie Marquesano’s 19-year-old son Harris died by accidental overdose, which motivated her to start this effort. Marquesano said: “Co-occurring disorders is preventable. The commitment of Westchester County leadership to the spirit of the CODA movement is so gratifying. Together we are providing a unique and unprecedented opportunity to improve outcomes for our youth by proactively addressing root causes of substance misuse/addiction, and empowering our youth with tools to bring the CODA message forward to their peers and communities.”

Commissioner of the Department of Community Mental Health Michael Orth said: “We are extremely thrilled to partner with our school districts to offer CODA awareness events in every high school in Westchester County.  Prevention is such a worthwhile investment of energy and resources, and CODA provides a unique lens through which to empower our youth to truly become the ‘Voices of Change.’”