SOMERSWORTH — Among the leading strategies to emerge from a prevention forum Monday, to meet the goal of preventing substance misuse, were education and limiting access.
The Somersworth Prevention Coalition held the community prevention planning forum at Somersworth High School Career Technical Center where coalition members looked at why prevention matters and held a strategy brainstorming session.
The Rev. Mark Rideout, who chairs the SPC board of directors, said the coalition is focused on the message of prevention, wellness and healthy decision making.
He talked about the science behind prevention and said it is the right thing to do, it feeds a sense of purpose and community and through programs like Youth 2 Youth leaders emerge.
“There are issues of substance misuse in Somersworth … we all know that,” Rideout said. “The message is on building the community ownership, awareness and buy-in, getting the message out so that the work of prevention can be done.”
SPC Coordinator Coty Donohue gave the gathering some background on SPC and said the primary goal is to reduce substance misuse among youth and community members in the Somersworth Community through prevention strategies.
“Our grant focuses on alcohol, prescription drugs and opioids,” Donohue said.
He shared statistics from the youth risk behavior survey in 2015 (YRBS) and asked the group how the community could address them.
He then divided those in attendance into three subgroups and each was assigned the task of examining an issue: Underage drinking, smoking/e-cigarettes, and prescription drug abuse.
With regard to drinking and smoking the groups cited parental modeling – they don’t hide their drinking, media influences, curiosity and rebellious behavior. They also felt E-cigarettes are seen as a safer alternative to smoking.
The group examining prescription drug abuse, felt there is less social stigma, a feeling that “it’s not drugs – it’s medicine,” promotion by pharmaceutical companies, the portable nature of pills and easy access.
In each area ease of access to the substances, peer pressure and external messaging were of concern.
When the three groups came back together they looked at strategies.
Steve MacKenzie said education as part of prevention needs to extend to the adult community because adults are part of the problem.
“We don’t mind talking about drug addiction as long as it doesn’t impinge on what we want to do,” MacKenzie said.
Rideout agreed, citing recent examples where parents were letting kids drink in their home.
“You’ve got to know where your kids are, who they are with,” Rideout said.
Maureen Jackman, SPC executive director, said a new curriculum for kindergarten through Grade 12 health is being put into place this year.
Desi Brown and Louise White, Youth to Youth advisers at the high school, talked about the difficulty in observing the student behavior and intervening. White said students should be encouraged to take ownership and report any issues.
Somersworth Middle School Principal Dana Hilliard said they have instilled a climate and culture that says, “you are not ratting someone out, but you are taking ownership of your community.”
“It is education, you can’t do it once, you need constant reinforcement of those values,” Hilliard said.
School Resource Officer Colton Deschenes said parents don’t know the kids are vaping or using e-cigarettes because they can just go to the local market and buy it.
“Our police department doesn’t have the resources to enforce this, if we can prevent our local community from distributing this to kids,” Deschenes said. “If we educate the people selling it, maybe we can make impact that way.”
Rideout cited National Night Out as an opportunity to take prevention activities out of the school and reinforce community values.
At the end of the discussion Donohue encouraged participants to fill out the comment card and sign up for email updates (https://somersworthcoalition.org).
Volunteers are needed for planning, education in the community, events, marketing/outreach and other areas.
Donohue said members of the coalition team will review notes from the forum as they work to develop their action plan, which is due in late January.