Dr. Drew addresses problem of disconnected youth in Arizona

Posted: Updated:
Dr. Drew Pinsky addresses a group of supporters for notMYkid in Tempe. (Source: 3TV) Dr. Drew Pinsky addresses a group of supporters for notMYkid in Tempe. (Source: 3TV)
TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - Phoenix has one of the highest rates of disconnected youth in the country. These are people 16 to 24 who aren't in school and don't have a job.

This was a topic that kept coming up when Dr. Drew Pinsky addressed a group of supporters for notMYkid, a local organization that tries to keep children from destructive behavior such as bullying and drug abuse.

"There is so much to get into today," Dr. Drew said as he began his talk, which included taking questions from the crowd.

"Families are not healthy so our kids are not healthy," he said in an interview afterward. "It's up to all of us to fill in and connect with people that may not have been given what they needed when they needed it."

Zach Telepak is 23 years old now, but in high school he wanted popularity and acceptance and that led him to the wrong crowd.

"I got sucked into the environment," Telepak said. "I got sucked into the people I was hanging out with."

In hindsight, Telepak and his father, Ted, say things changed when his older brother left for college.

"Many of Gabe's friends were Zach's friends," Ted Telepak said. "They all leave. There are changes in the youth group and now, who am I in relation to other people?"

Zach started to distance himself from their tight-knit family. He said he first tried marijuana just to see what it was like.

"I didn't die," he recalled. "My skin didn't peel off. I didn't look that much different. All those things I got told, the reason why they're bad, none of that happened."

He later used Ecstasy and was still using drugs when he left for college, but eventually police caught up with him.

"I got arrested," Zach said. "I was in jail and I was going to college during that time at ASU. At that moment, I realized that my life was over in a sense and I didn't see it coming."

"He got in the car," Ted recounted. "We cried and I told him, 'You're still alive.'"

"My dad turned to me and I'm expecting him to yell at me or say something," Zach said. "And the first thing he says is, 'I'm just happy that you're alive.'"

Zach said that simple statement speaks volumes when he looks back on the moment. His parents took him to court, to school and to rehab meetings at Banner Behavioral Health for months.

"His sisters, his brother, they're watching, what are you going to do?" Ted said.

Zach wasn't suffering chemical dependency. He had to decide to change his life direction. With the help of his parents, he received probation and community service. He earned his degree in psychology.

Now, he speaks to huge crowds of high school students about making better choices.

"Being able to use my story and use what I've learned from my mistakes to help somebody else, it's a pretty powerful thing," he said.

"I'm at some inner-city high school and there are 700 kids packed in there and he's speaking," Ted said. "That blows ASU's graduation out of the water."

Zach plans to go to graduate school and be a counselor.

Clearly, family was a key element to Zach changing his direction.

"Pay attention," Dr. Drew said. "Bottom line."

But Dr. Drew said support doesn't have to come from a parent. A youth leader, a teacher, almost any stable adult can help reconnect a young person.

"Spend the time and focus on them and let it be clear that you care," Dr. Drew said. "Inquire about their feelings and spend that time attuning to them, has massive implications for their mental health."

A lot of young people don't have that family support. Here is a list of numbers and contacts provided by notMykid that can help if you are struggling with your teenager.

If the child is an immediate risk to himself/herself or others, call:

911

1-800-SUICIDE

1-800-273-TALK

If the parents are seeking counseling resources and the child is not an immediate harm to himself/herself or others, go to or call:

SAMHSA Treatment Locator - https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov

Empact SPC – 480-784-1500

notMYkid – 602-652-0163