Courier Staff Writer
Less drug and alcohol abuse among Wapello County kids means a 10-year grant appears to have made a difference.
“We had 10 years to be in the community and create awareness, bringing attention to the negative aspects of youth substance abuse,” said Kathy Hasley, director of the Substance Abuse Task Force in Wapello County.
The major goals of the Substance Abuse Task Force were to decrease youth substance abuse and to build an effective, sustainable coalition of businesses, local groups and individuals who would help spread the message that drugs, alcohol and cigarettes are bad for kids.
The Drug Free Community Support Program federal funding concluded this past September. But that doesn’t mean the cooperation between area organizations has to stop, Hasley said.
“I don’t want to say that it’s ended; it’s making a transition,” she said. “First Resources and SIEDA are taking over a leadership role in substance abuse reduction.”
Even over the past 10-plus years, she said, the message hasn’t just been spread by Hasley and the people who’ve attended SATF meetings.
“The whole community has been supportive,” she said. “Our coalition ... raised the awareness of these issues in our community through the involvement of many community sectors. In Wapello County ... everyone stepped up to the plate and did their part.”
For example, a venue might host an alcohol-free back-to-school or after-prom party, companies made it easier for their employees to volunteer as chaperones, and schools helped distribute educational material.
One of Hasley’s first recruits in her coalition was Jim Clark, now chief of the Ottumwa Police Department.
“The police department and the Substance Abuse Task Force partnered approximately 10 years ago to help combat the problem of substance abuse among youth,” said Clark.
It’s seldom enough for just the police to fight a problem. The coalition meant that multiple entities were tackling youth drug abuse.
“The Substance Abuse Task Force has been an excellent resource in helping our community’s youth,” the chief said.
Because while kids might not like getting “busted” for drinking at a party, Hasley said, when kids — or the adults in their lives — break the law, consequences aren’t necessarily a bad thing.
“It is positive in that we’re sending that message that this is unacceptable,” Hasley said. “We care about you enough that we don’t want you to experience some of the devastating effects that can come along with underage drinking.”
It also means that parents are “getting it,” that there are both legal issues that come along with allowing kids to drink, and health issues resulting from alcohol abuse on the developing teen brain.
“It is now up to everyone in the community to sustain our positive outcomes and to continue to decrease substance use among the youth,” she said. “You address current issues. Hopefully all the people still involved [in coalition leadership roles] will continue to look at the data.”
So what does she think may be coming in the future? The Internet and family medicine cabinets are becoming sources for drug abuse.
“One thing that may need attention is the prescription drug abuse. Don’t forget to keep an eye on the liquor cabinet, but parents may need to increase awareness of the medicine cabinet.”
Kids who mix drugs and alcohol can face deadly danger — as can those purchasing unregulated drugs over the Internet.
“There’s synthetic drugs that are available online. Parents really need to be looking at what their children are doing online.”
Task Force official: Numbers still too high
The Substance Abuse Task Force’s Kathy Hasley recently submitted the group’s final report.
Using data from the 1999 and 2010 Iowa Youth Survey, she reported that 10-year period saw a 14 percent decrease in alcohol use among 11th-grade students in Wapello County and a 6 percent decrease in alcohol use among eighth-grade students in Wapello County.
“In my opinion, the percentages of youth involved in cigarette, alcohol and marijuana use is still too high,” Hasley said. “It is my hope that the coalition will continue to address these issues despite the lack of funding.”
Even with the improvement over the years, 32 percent of Wapello County 11th-graders — about one in three — report recent alcohol use. One in 10 high school-aged kids in Wapello County reports recently using marijuana. One in five area high school teens has used tobacco within the 30 days prior to taking the survey.
The numbers are lower for kids in eighth grade, though the anonymous survey does indicate one out of every 20 middle school children in Ottumwa and surrounding schools has recently used marijuana, one in 10 recently had a cigarette, and nearly one in five consumed alcohol in the 30 days prior to answering the survey.
But like the decrease in alcohol use, those are improvements. Between 1999 and 2010, the number of Wapello County kids who had recently been smoking “pot” dropped 11 percent in 11th grade, which also saw a 14 percent decrease in reported cigarette use.