When it comes to drug and alcohol use in Westchester and Rockland counties, many parents and people who deal with teens on a regular basis may think the issues involved are the same ones they dealt with in their youth.
Jack Claypoole, associate deputy director & drug free community administrator at the White House office of National Drug Control Policy, believes this a mistake.
“Who would’ve thought we’d be dealing prescription drug abuse or synthetic drugs today,” Claypoole said Tuesday during Westchester Coalition for Drug and Alcohol Free Youth's forum on marijuana use and prescription drug abuse. Think how fast that technology has changed and if we’re waiting for federal data, our data systems are slow. That’s the reason we formed drug free communities, because you guys are going to see problems long before they hit the National Institute on Drug Abuse, or Monitoring the Future or any of the other surveys.”
Representative from more than 30 youth drug and alcohol prevention agencies in Westchester and Rockland counties attended the event, which was held at the Westchester County Center in White Plains.
The forum was sponsored by the Westchester Coalition for Drug and Alcohol Free Youth and the Rockland Preventing Youthful Drug Abuse Coalition.
Other officials scheduled to attend included U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-Scarsdale; and Robert Kelly, executive director of the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office Intelligence Center; and John Coppola, executive director of the New York Association of Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Providers.
“Today is about letting each other know, from the two counties, the message we heard from Jack Claypoole,” said Vito Pinto, chairperson of the Westchester Coalition for Drug and Alcohol Free Youth and director of the county Office of Drug Prevention and STOP-DWI. “We are not going to always be able to meet the challenge by think the way we do. We have to change the way we think and get more involved with the young people.”
According to a survey presented by Bonnie Fenster, evaluator and data coordinator for the Westchester County Coalition for Drug and Alcohol Free Youth, showed alcohol and drug abuse in Westchester youth has decreased from 2008 to 2011.
The data also showed that high school sophomore in Westchester County are using marijuane less than other sophomore nationally in 2011. However, high school seniors in Westchester County are using marijuana more than their counterparts across the nation.
Both Westchester County sophomore and seniors engaged in binge drinking at higher rate than the nationally averages in 2011, according to Fenster.
Ruthie Bowles, executive director of the Rockland Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, said similar surveys of fifth, eighth and tenth graders showed that alcohol use had decreased from 2007 to 2010. But there was a slight increase in eighth grade marijuana use and a major increase in marijuana use by high school sophomores in 2010.
Although the survey numbers showed that drug and alcohol use by Rockland youth were below or near the national numbers average for most part, they also showed a slight increase in the amount of Rockland youth who believe drugs and alcohol are readily available to them.
The survey also showed that female students are drinking faster and harder than their male counterparts and that there is an increase in the abuse of opiates and benzodiazepines. Inhalants are also becoming more of a problem among Rockland middle schoolers.
During his speech, Claypoole said substance abuse agencies needed to relay the dangers of drug use to youth in a way that they can relate to.
Claypoole said the many of the items that interest teens are sold to them in a way that they can relate to emotionally. But when public health officials talk about the dangers of substance abuse to teens, it’s done in a way that involves statistics and doesn’t grab their attention, according to Claypoole.
“If Budweiser has figured that out, why are we trying to recreate the wheel—no one shows them with their heads in the toilet,” Claypoole said. “No one shows them in handcuffs. No one shows them in a morgue.”
Regina Davenport, a board member of the Drug Abuse Prevention Council for Bedford, Pound Ridge and Lewisboro, said Claypoole’s talk was informative and gave insights into ways of approaching adolescents on a different level incorporating social media and other techniques.
“It was really inspiring,” Davenport said. “It gave everyone new ideas about how to approach the issue of drug abuse in our communities. He gave me and many of colleagues ideas about different ways of approaching the issues in ways that we’ve never thought of before.”