The National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) 2011 report finds that the consumption of alcohol, the use of tobacco and marijuana, and the abuse of prescription drugs is on the rise among teens. It is also America’s #1 public health problem for this age group. This cannot be dismissed as part of typical teenage rebellion, as early experimentation with substances can result in a lifetime of struggles. The CASA report found that 9 out of 10 adult addicts started using these substances before the age of 18. The risk of becoming an addict is 1 in 4 for those who start using in the teen years, compared to 1 in 25 for those who wait until age 21 or older. In addition to addiction, teen substance use is a contributing factor to a host of health and safety problems including violence, unsafe sexual activity, cardiac and respiratory problems, and even death. Parents contribute to the risk by either looking the other way when their teenagers experiment with addictive substances, or for thinking that this experimenting is just another rite of passage on the way to adulthood.
One strategy the North Coastal Prevention Coalition (NCPC) is employing to combat the rise in teen substance abuse is to develop future prevention advocates through youth leadership and advocacy training. This involves much more than just saying alcohol and drugs are dangerous; it means getting teens actively involved in advocacy and policy change to improve their communities.
This youth-led effort focuses on problems young people are seeing in their community. “I’ve seen how drugs affect people’s families and I want to help prevent it,” says Michael Redman, a junior at Oceanside High School and chair of the North Coastal Prevention Youth Coalition (NCPYC).
Many NCPYC members have personal experiences related to substance abuse that led them to become youth prevention advocates. Lidia Torres, a recent graduate of Vista High School and active member of NCPYC for two years says, “I decided to get involved with the coalition to set an example for my brothers and little cousin about what’s right and what’s not right.”
Some of the group’s recent achievements include conducting a Prescription Drug Abuse Forum for parents and teens at Oceanside High School, and traveling to Washington D.C. to meet with their elected leaders about substance abuse prevention and to participate in a youth leadership forum.
Their current effort is a merchant education campaign to let local retailers know about the dangers of synthetic drugs like Spice, often sold in local stores. In June, law enforcement agencies in Vista, Oceanside and Carlsbad sent letters to over 250 retailers asking for their cooperation in reducing the availability of these drugs due to their potential dangers. NCPYC members are following up with some of these retailers to find out if they are selling synthetic drugs. The youth are informing retailers of the health and safety risks of synthetic drugs, and encouraging them to stop selling these products.
The youth also recognize the importance of parents in substance prevention efforts and encourage them to be actively involved in their kids’ lives. “Parents need to be aware of what their children are doing and who they’re hanging out with,” Redman states. The CASA report also acknowledges the power parents have to prevent teen substance abuse, and recommends parents “…set a good example; restrict access to addictive substances; communicate clear, consistent no-use messages; consistently enforce rules; [and] monitor their teens…”
NCPYC provides a great opportunity for teens to become involved in their communities and helps teens develop leadership skills as well as build their resumes for jobs and college applications. If you know a youth who would like to be involved, please contact Carmela Muñoz at 760-631-5000 ext. 7147.