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Fair Provides Resources on Substance Use

Originally published in September, 2017. View the original article here.

Goal is to start a conversation between young people, parents

A teenage bedroom staged in the lunchroom of Douglas County High School revealed everyday items that young people may be using to conceal drug or alcohol use. Inside a hairbrush was a compartment for marijuana. A pill bottle was in a pillowcase. Batteries that store pills were in an Xbox controller.

The mock bedroom — which had more than 80 indicators of drug or alcohol use — was part of the first Substance Abuse Resource Fair, hosted by Douglas County High School and Douglas County Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, along with several mental health and addiction organizations in the region.

The goal of the fair was to connect parents with resources. Several booths lined the lunchroom, distributing information about recovery centers, parent support groups and treatment programs. Douglas County Sheriff’s Office answered questions about the latest technology they are encountering on school grounds — including vape pens, small devices used to inhale nicotine or marijuana oils.

Allison Strawn, the high school’s nurse, spearheaded the fair after learning about a similar event hosted by Addiction is Real — a nonprofit organization that educates parents about drug and alcohol use — in St. Louis.

“We really felt it was important people know that they are not alone in this,” Strawn said. “It’s more of a prevention thing.”

The timing is fitting. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and research shows that substance use and mental health oftentimes go hand-in-hand. In 2014, 7.9 million adults in the U.S. had both a substance use disorder and mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Zac Hess, director of health, wellness and prevention of Douglas County School District, said he sees a stigma around substance use in Douglas County. The fair was an opportunity to give families tools to recognize the signs of and talk about substance use.

“We need to stay in front of it,” Hess said. “We just need to start talking.”

Last fall, Douglas County Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition studied behaviors of 43 high school students in Castle Rock, Highlands Ranch, Parker and Lone Tree. Results revealed that alcohol is the number one problem, followed by marijuana. Prescription drug use isn’t as prevalent, said Steve Martinez, substance abuse prevention coordinator of Tri-County Health, a partner of the coalition.

A 2013 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey of ninth- to 12th-graders in Douglas County showed that 27 percent of kids had alcohol in the past 30 days, compared to 31 percent statewide. The study also revealed that 77 percent of students felt they could ask a parent or guardian for help with a personal problem.

“Kids want to talk,” Hess said. “Parents don’t always know what to say.”

Douglas County High School principal Tony Kappas said the fair was a step in the right direction. Since joining the high school in 2004, he hasn’t lost a student to substance abuse, but wants to be proactive about the topic. He hopes the Substance Abuse Resource Fair happens four times a year at different schools in the district.

“We have so many resources,” Kappa said. “It takes a village.”