Joed Osorio started using illegal drugs when he was just 10 years old growing up in San Lucas Sacatepéquez, Guatemala. It didn’t take long before he was part of a group selling drugs.

He credits the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America with turning his life around. The group, which has received support from the U.S. Embassy, works with community leaders and local government agencies to identify the causes of drug abuse in neighborhoods and tailor programs to combat them.

Osorio knew instantly that he found his calling when he attended a coalition meeting in 2015. He said he connected with other young men and women with similar stories.

Young man speaking before audience (U.S. Embassy of Guatemala)
Joed Osorio (U.S. Embassy of Guatemala)

Since then, he has shared his story of hope and recovery with more than 2,500 families. Today, Osorio, 19, works with the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of San Lucas Sacatepéquez and is a college student with hopes of working someday for the Guatemalan Embassy or the United Nations.

Supporters of the coalition’s program say it works because it is created and implemented at the community level. Local leaders — business owners, government officials, teachers, police and religious authorities — are enlisted to identify the factors that lead to drug use in their communities, often going door to door to gather information.

In the Western Highlands of Guatemala, for example, community leaders identified at least two drivers of the area’s marijuana problem: (1) Young people could easily get the drug, and (2) many were unaware that using marijuana had any negative consequences.

The community responded by organizing speakers to go to schools and talk to students about the dangers of drugs. Leaders also considered creating activities to keep students busy and away from the lure and temptation of drugs.

Members of local anti-drug coalitions are volunteers and meet monthly. The meetings are open to the public and serve as a forum to discuss the problems caused by drugs and possible solutions.

Often, teachers, doctors and even the police refer young people caught using drugs to the coalition meetings as a way to help the youngsters.

Osorio urges young people to “get more involved in groups and organizations that seek to help their communities, because only then can we change the future of our society.”