A group of organizations in Syracuse is creating a coalition meant to attack the problem of youth substance abuse in the city.
The Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Initiative is based on a national model that uses several strategies to fight a problem that just doesn’t seem to go away. Groups like the Southwest Community Center and the Syracuse City School District have joined the Prevention Network in Syracuse to try to stop the persistent abuse of drugs and alcohol by kids in Syracuse. So, they’re creating a coalition to find ways to meet the problem head on.
"It's a lot of the old school stuff," said Beth Hurny, executive director of the Prevention Network. "You go for the parent and you do stuff in the schools. All that stuff is important, all those initiatives are important. But they’re not the silver bullet. There isn’t one. But if those are reaching individuals, families and the young people themselves, then this model is reaching the community at large. Because we know reaching the individual is not enough."
The best way to target solutions is to scour the data about drug use among youth. So the coalition is painting a picture of what this abuse looks like. Not surprisingly, alcohol is still the number one drug of choice, and Alis Selfick, a community development consultant with the Prevention Resource Center in Syracuse, says most of these kids say they’re drinking at home.
"It’s in the fridge, it’s in easy reach," said Selfick. "It’s in the liquor cabinet. Sometimes they say they are getting it with permission from their parents, sometimes not. We just don’t want it to be accessible.”
While alcohol is king, use of marijuana is gaining fast. As a matter a fact, surveys of Syracuse school kids show it’s easier to buy pot than a bottle of alcohol.
"It happens in schools, it happens at the corner stores, it happens behind the churches. Everywhere," said Hurny. "I don’t believe there’s one avenue to getting it. That’s the thing about access. It’s everywhere. It’s not the traditional baggie exchange on the corner.”
Sefick says these statistics show the average age kids start drinking is 12. For smoking marijuana, it’s 11. And these are some of the most sobering statistics as the coalition looks to help these children as they grow up.
“Age of first use has been correlated with adult substance abuse problems," said Selfick. "So that’s a huge issue is as long as we can keep them away from drug and substance abuse the better.”
Following alcohol and marijuana, data shows that prescription drug abuse is also an issue. This information is only the first step. Terry Whitt, director of the Prevention Resource Center Central Region says with the facts, they can target particular problems, like easy access to prescription medications.
"We’re planning on doing some work with senior citizens to teach them the dangers and the vulnerability to having all their prescription medications in one place, and how to secure them and lock them up," said Whitt. "So it’s really for each drug we’re talking about there’s many strategies that you can employ."
All agree that this issue is not limited to the city of Syracuse. Hurny says groups there simply were the first to ask to create such a coalition.
"We would be doing this and are willing to do this with anybody that came to us from anywhere," said Hurny. "Baldwinsville, Cicero, West Genesee, it doesn’t matter if they come to us and say enough is enough. We would want to be doing the same type of initiative in all of the areas."