2009-02-19 / News

Numbers indicate substance abuse education is working

By Eileen M. Daly

The current financial crisis is squeezing school budgets across the country and, whenever fi- nances get tight, social service programs are often first on the chopping block. But does it make sense to cut these programs? Are the programs that are in place cost effective? Is there any evidence to support the efficacy of the current programs? These are the kind of questions on everyone's mind when tough decisions have to be made about what programs stay and what programs get the ax.

Jamestown Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force Coordinator Laura Hosley sought to answer some of these questions regarding substance abuse prevention programs at last Thursday's school committee meeting. Hosley began by pointing out that, according to recent SALT statistics, Jamestown is doing quite well in terms of preventing student use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs. "Substance abuse prevention is no accident," Hosley said.

Hosley said Jamestown's "great programs" and collaborative efforts by the schools, the police, the teen center, parents, task force members and the community at large are factors that contribute to recent positive statistics related to substance use and abuse. "The statistics on the number of children who are reporting that they do not smoke, drink or use drugs have all increased," Hosley said.

Even more encouraging, according to Hosley, is the fact that the statistics indicate Jamestown's kids are increasingly more likely to perceive substance use as a high risk behavior. "Kids buy in, when adults buy in. Their values become our values," Hosley said. She referred to a number of community members including Police Chief Tighe, Recreation Director Bill Piva, Town Council Member Barbara Szepatowski and Lawn Avenue School Principal Kathy Almanzor as examples of people who understand the value of the programs. "When I talk to them I think, 'Wow, they really get it," Hosley said.

Hosley also had a lot to say about statistics. "I understand that a comment was made about whether they are valid," Hosley said, referring to the SALT statistics. "The answer is yes. The data is cleaned prior to compilation, which means surveys that were obviously not taken seriously are removed. Questions are also included which are designed to cross check the answers to see if they are answered correctly," she said.

According to Hosley, Jamestown's kids are doing better every year. "I am very sure that this improvement is attributed to the programs we have in place and the clear, consistent message that they are getting. We are all working together and it is great," she said.

As for the prevention programs being utilized in Jamestown, Hosley was careful to point out that they are based on research about what works. "The Student Assistance Program, as well as Project Northland, which the student assistance counselor teaches in grades 6, 7 and 8, are all evidenced based. They delay the initiation of substance abuse ,which is what we are trying to accomplish," she said.

Hosley went on to cite some statistics gathered from studies she has read on the topic. She cited the following statistics:

• Students who begin drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence during their lifetime than people who begin drinking at age 21.

• Interventions seeking to prevent alcohol misuse should target elementary and middle school children directly. These results indicate that increasing the perceived harmfulness of alcohol use among children ages 11 to 12 should delay the initiation of alcohol use, which, in turn, should reduce alcohol misuse at ages 17 to 18.

"What we really want is a "buy in" from the youth. I realized when I was thinking about why my own kids have the attitudes they do that they have adopted my values. They don't abstain because I have told them to. They understand how important these decisions are and what implications there are for making poor ones. Think about the poor decisions that are made after just one drink—one more drink, trying one drug, one relationship that goes farther than intended . . . you get the picture," Hosley said. "That's why we do prevention."

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