Marin Voice: Progress in dealing with teens and alcohol and drug abuse

The Dec. 13 Marin Voice column on a conversation between retired educator Mark Phillips and Tamalpais Union High School District Superintendent David Yoshihara raises some important issues and ideas about dealing with alcohol and drug abuse by teens in Marin.

We are excited to continue that conversation and share ways in which members of our community have been working together over the past decade to address it.

A broad coalition of parents, law enforcement, school leaders, public health professionals, students, elected officials and business leaders have joined forces throughout the county to develop comprehensive and coordinated strategies aimed at reducing underage substance use.

Their earliest efforts were successful in achieving the implementation of social host ordinances in every city, town and unincorporated area of Marin. These ordinances set a unifying enforcement standard throughout the county, and hold adults responsible for underage drinking in their own homes.

Understandably, raising children into healthy adults can be incredibly challenging. Marin parents should be encouraged to know that according to a 2014 Parent Norms Survey, a vast majority of parents support their children’s decision not to drink or use drugs, by speaking with them about it and not allowing alcohol or drug use in their homes.

Parents’ efforts at home are reinforced through coordinated programs at most of Marin’s middle and high schools, which actively engage students and parents.

For example, Being Adept, launched by a Kentfield parent, educates middle school students and their parents about the effects of alcohol and drugs on their bodies and minds while helping parents set up networks of support. At the high school level, Be the Influence engages with parents by encouraging them to sign pledges and start dialogues in their homes and social circles about expectations around drinking and using drugs.

Youth leadership programs such as Friday Night Live, the Marin County Youth Commission and YMCA Marin County Youth Court work directly with young people to change the culture of substance abuse in Marin.

There are many other examples at our local elementary, middle and high schools — all intended to form a partnership between our schools and parents with the goal of reducing risky youth behavior.

Additionally, most of Marin’s towns are served by active community coalitions, which are supported with funding and/or technical assistance from the county prevention coordinator, and are comprised of parents, schools, law enforcement, government, youth and businesses. These community coalitions work together and have strategies unique to their specific areas to raise awareness, create networks, develop alternative activities for young people, and support efforts in their schools to reduce alcohol and drug use.

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Finally, the Tamalpais Union High School District just launched the Wellness Center at Redwood High School. In an innovative new approach to student health, the Wellness Center offers student health, mental health, substance use/abuse, and reproductive health support through direct services and prevention and education.

Both Drake and Tamalpais high schools are in the process of exploring and replicating similar concepts with a goal of providing direct services onsite.

If that seems like a lot, it is; and results have shown that this approach works.

In Novato, where a coordinated, community-wide response has been in place the longest, there has been a demonstrable drop in youth binge drinking from 42 percent to 32 percent between 2011 and 2013, among Novato’s 11th-graders.

Yes, Marin has a problem with teen alcohol and drug use. But we also are fortunate to have resources, tools and a compassionate network of support to help families navigate this issue in their homes and at schools.

We encourage parents, students, school officials, law enforcement, elected officials and business leaders throughout the county to join us. We look forward to working more closely with Dr. Yoshihara and other superintendents in the coming years.

Bridget Clark of the Ross Valley Healthy Community Collaborative is a member of the Marin County Joint Prevention Coalition.

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