Community-Led Responses to Substance Use

This year, KOM’s 7th Annual Gala will feature speakers from the Karen Chemical Dependency Collaboration (KCDC), as well as a video interview with one of the program’s participants.

(Pictured above from left to right: Ehtaw Dwee, Dr. Shana Sniffen, Paw Wah Toe, Ta Da, and Tonya Horn)

KCDC started in 2013 when a group of providers and community leaders got together and identified substance use as the largest unmet need facing the Karen community. Providers were noticing an increase in substance use and the problems it created, such as domestic violence and DWIs. There were no culturally specific treatments available at that time, and existing treatment models were not effective in serving Karen patients. KCDC was formed to fill these gaps.

KCDC is a cross-sector, cross-cultural collaborative that is pursuing four community-identified initiatives:

  1. Develop community education, health promotion, and prevention tools;
  2. Develop culturally and linguistically relevant substance use treatment and community-based recovery support services;
  3. Increase the capacity of the Karen language and Karen interpreters related to interpreting mental health and substance use terminology;
  4. Train and develop partnerships with Karen faith leaders who are often the first source of support for families.

This collaborative initiative responds to clients’ needs along the continuum of care: from prevention to treatment to recovery. In the past 4 years, KCDC has had many accomplishments. They have developed and launched a Karen specific outpatient treatment group at HealthEast in collaboration with KOM, as well as a community based support group similar to the AA model . KCDC has developed several community education health materials, including a video on DWIs and a bilingual resource website that is searchable in Karen and English ( They have trained 77 Karen interpreters in mental health and substance abuse settings, and have led four trainings for Karen pastors to build their capacity to support Karen families dealing with substance use problems.

With the hard work of HealthEast, KOM, and the support of collaboration partners, KCDC has been able to provide services to Karen individuals and families that couldn’t have been received anywhere else. KCDC’s work was recently featured in Bush Foundation magazine and received a Bush Community Innovation grant.

KCDC plans to continue to expand programs to meet the many, complex needs of families that are struggling with substance use problems. For example, KCDC is partnering with adolescent treatment centers to be able to offer more culturally-relevant services for Karen youth.  Ta Da, Community Health Educator at KOM and member of KCDC explained the importance of addressing substance use among youth saying, “Many Karen in high school and junior high are beginning to use drugs and alcohol. We don’t want drugs to destroy their lives and make them lose their future. We want them to have a future and to have goals.”

For more details about KCDC and to read the article from B Magazine, visit

KCDC is funded by the HealthEast Foundation, Bush Foundation, Medica Foundation, St. Paul Foundation, and F.R. Bigelow Foundation.

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