by Meredith M. Griffith
The Coalition for Orcas Youth is working this spring to spread awareness on the safe use, storage and disposal of opioid medications.
“We’re here, and we’re excited!” says coalition board member Liz Doane, who also serves as program director for the Funhouse Commons. “We’re really involved and passionate about our community.”
In recognition of April 27 as National Prescription Drug Take Back Day (https://takebackday.dea.gov), coalition coordinator Alison Sanders says the group has launched two new spring campaigns: a monthlong focus on drug take-back awareness and presentations by local youth based on the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services Starts with One campaign.
Julie Pinardi’s Next Generation high school group has designed a flyer to be included with each sale at Ray’s Pharmacy this month, and Orcas High School student Birdie Greening created another flyer for the elementary schools, emphasizing proper disposal of pharmaceuticals. Pinardi, who serves as a student and family advocate with the Orcas Island School District, is also a coalition board member and key leader.
There are two disposal sites on Orcas where unwanted pharmaceuticals can be left: one dropbox inside Ray’s Pharmacy and the other located just outside the Eastsound sheriff’s substation.
The coalition’s main goals are to build community collaboration and to enact preventative measures that will reduce youth substance use and mental health struggles. Sanders says top-priority risk factors identified for San Juan County are: community laws and norms favorable toward drug use (a phenomenon referred to by board member and deputy Jason Gross as “the cool parents” who may facilitate substance abuse in their homes); accessibility or perceived accessibility of drugs and alcohol; and family management skills. Proper and timely drug disposal reduces access, in line with the coalition’s goal to prevent problems before they start by addressing their predictors and root causes.
Doane sees the coalition as a natural extension of the Funhouse, saying, “The Funhouse was built with a mission: to take urgent community needs and turn them into safe and stimulating opportunities for the community.”
“People can always come approach us and chat,” she adds. “I really treasure those face-to-face conversations because they help build rapport with the community.”
COY regularly examines data from the biennial, statewide Healthy Youth Survey (www.askhys.net), which anonymously queries sixth to 12th graders in schools across all 39 Washington counties about their rates of substance abuse. In San Juan County, Sanders says there is “really good news.”
“We’ve seen a pretty dramatic shift in the last decade,” she said.
Over the past 10 years (from 2008 to 2018), survey results report that binge drinking has dropped from 34 percent of high school seniors to 13 percent; among sophomores, it has dropped from 20 percent to 10 percent. Recent alcohol use dropped from 50 percent among high school seniors to 27 percent; and dropped from 33 percent to 21 percent for sophomores. In 2008, 18 percent of eighth graders reported recent alcohol use, but in 2018 just 3 percent did.
Sanders credits prevention coalitions in San Juan County with providing “consistent messaging” to island communities and youth over the past 15 years.
Gross and Doane both emphasize that students are more likely to internalize messaging that supports healthy choices when they hear it consistently from varying voices, whether from family, at school, at the Funhouse or from other community members.
COY encourages islanders to mindfully participate in the “social development strategy” devised by the University of Washington’s Communities That Care program (http://www.washington.edu/boundless/communities-that-care/).
Here’s the strategy: 1. Provide developmentally appropriate opportunities for active involvement. 2. Help youth learn new skills. 3. Offer recognition of those newly developed skills. 4. This recognition fosters bonding with those involved. 5. The resulting bonding provides motivation for youth to identify and live within the standards set by the community or group.
Sanders noted that when this social development strategy was used in case studies, researchers tracked increases in students’ academic and economic success, as well as decreases in alcohol use, violence, teen pregnancies and mental health problems.
Two-year funding for the coalition has been provided by a State Opioid Response funding grant, and COY is pursuing ongoing funding through a federal Drug-Free Communities grant. Helpful tips for parents and community members can be found at starttalkingnow.org. COY events and initiatives can be found on Facebook at Coalition for Orcas Youth.
“It’s nice to be part of something that’s going to change the community big-time forever,” says Gross.