When community organizations work to prevent teen drug and alcohol use, it’s very important that they’re able to measure their progress.
The Riverhead Community Coalition for Safe and Drug-Free Youth has had some big successes in the past few years, which they shared with the community at their annual Meet & Greet at the Riverhead firehouse April 12.
“The best strategies are the ones that change outcomes in the community,” said Felicia Scocozza, Executive Director of Riverhead Community Awareness Program, which coordinates the Riverhead Community Coalition.
Ms. Scocozza pointed out in a presentation at the Meet & Greet that youth at Riverhead High School, in a 2016 survey, reported a 19 percent decline in drinking at home with the consent of their family, while binge drinking, the average age of onset of drinking and alcohol use in the past 30 days have all declined, although 12th Graders have reported an increase in alcohol use in the past 30 days.
CAP surveys Riverhead students in 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th grade every two years.
The Coalition has also worked to ensure that drink servers at public events in Riverhead receive TIPS training for responsibly serving alcohol.
The Coalition’s work has been honored twice already this year. It was awarded the Coalition of Excellence Award for Short Term Outcomes from Community for Drug Free Communities of America in February, and in March received a Coalition of Excellence award from the Air National Guard Counter Drug Task Force, presented by Sean Cassidy and Gabriel Manzueta, who represent the Air National Guard on the coalition and nominated it for the award.
In 2013, CAP received a $500,000 grant from the White House Office of National Drug Control Police, to be used over five years, to create the Community Coalition. CAP is reapplying for the grant this year.
Eleven members of CAP’s Riverhead Youth Coalition shared their work at the Meet & Greet. The students have been busy placing stickers on alcohol cases in stores warning against selling alcohol to minors, writing and recording public service radio ads about the dangers of drug and alcohol use and participating in medication take-back days that brought in 4,500 pounds of pills.
The Youth Coalition has also spent quite a bit of time researching the dangers of e-cigarettes, which are being heavily marketed to youth.
The cigarettes, which are easily concealed and include models that look like a thumb drive and can be charged in your computer, work by vaporizing an oil that is inhaled by the user, producing no cigarette smell or smoke, though some vapor can be seen in the air and they can contain strange smells due to the prevalence of flavored oils.
The Youth Coalition reported that, in 2016, 49 percent of Riverhead High School students said they had tried e-cigarettes, and 20 percent had said they believe they are not harmful.
The industry isn’t well-regulated, said the kids in the coalition, and one vaping cartridge contains about the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. They added that, with 7,700 flavors, many of which are aimed toward people with a sweet tooth, vape juices are being actively marketed to teenagers.
“Preliminary research indicates that e-cigarettes cause damage to the lungs, brain and heart, and cancerous tumor development and pregnancy complications have been reported,” said Youth Coalition member Nina Geraci.
“Nicotine poisoning is a thing. There is no regulation in the device,” said coalition member Matt LaCombe, who gave the adults in attendance an overview of how vape products are being used and concealed by kids. “Twelve percent of 12th graders have also reported using e-cigarettes for cannabis oil.”
Some vape juices are also sold containing CBD oil, or cannabidiol, a marijuana extract that does not contain THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, and can be sold over the counter.
“This is a huge issue in our community,” said parent Keri Stromski. “We’re hearing a lot that kids are doing this in classrooms and on buses.”
Ms. Stromski urged Riverhead to enact zoning restrictions making it more difficult for store owners to market vape products in their windows.
“There are other towns doing this,” she said. “We need to get in front of this. We cannot play catch-up. This is a gateway drug.”