In the United States, more than 66.5 million people smoke cigarettes. Of that population, more than 3 million are teens between the ages of 12 and 17, reports the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
A study conducted by Colorado State University Professor Ruth Edwards documented the drug use of rural twelfth graders compared to those living in metropolitan areas. While she found both demographics used some type of drug while in high school, she noted the rural teens were less likely to have used marijuana, but were more likely to drink alcohol.
The one startling realization Edwards came to was that the rural teens were drinking alcohol while driving, which could have dangerous effects for the community, as well as for others driving on the roads.
Edwards, who works with the Tri-Ethnic Center for Prevention Research, showed through her research that of the 560 teens she documented, 5 percent of rural teens had had a car accident as a result of alcohol use, compared to 3 percent in metropolitan areas.
Communities concerned about the increased use of drugs and alcohol are bonding together to create events aimed at educating parents and teens about the perils of drug abuse.
“I grew up exposed to drug abuse and had used drugs before I came to Christ,” said Pastor Dan Southern of Centreville Community Church in Queen Anne’s County, Maryland in a January 30 interview about the proposed Youth Summit. “In the past three months I have witnessed three overdoses and one attempted suicide just in our community.”
Southern decided to develop a community faith-based program to reach out to the entire community. Now in its third year, the summit draws more than 400 community members to discuss underage drug use, prevention and treatment.
In New Hampshire, Dover Police took it as part of their mission to provide activities for youth to keep them from starting to use drugs. They formed the Dover Coalition for Youth, which brings community leaders together, along with youth, to provide resources and a forum to discuss solutions to underage drug and alcohol use, said Dana Mitchell on the group’s website.
The American Council for Drug Education reports that on top of the usual drugs used by teens for generations, including tobacco and alcohol, new trends in teenage drug use have been observed. The Council updated its website recently to include information on inhalants that teens are huffing, as they call it.
The Council recommends education as the backbone of prevention, especially when it comes to teens. The site has advice for health professionals, parents, communities and the youth themselves. It suggests that a simple thing like asking a question, may help prevent underage drug use.
During an interview January 30, with Prevention Specialist Kathy Wright, who coordinates Queen Anne’s County drug-free coalition, she said community events, such as youth summits are gaining in popularity and grants are available to help fund drug prevention.
The New Hampshire anti-drug programming works closely with a national organization called the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, which focuses on creating drug-free communities.
Community leaders can access broad resources using the CADCA website, which integrates educational information about anti-drug programs throughout the United States and also how communities can create their own coalition.
Narconon Vancouver started a youth drug prevention program to provide talks steering youth away from drugs. The group also has a rehabilitation program that boasts a 70 percent success rate, according to their website.
“Having teens involved helps get the message out,” said Southern. “What better way to get the message out than kids telling kids not to do drugs.”