By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Stand-Up Laconia this week held the second of three workshops in preparation for applying for a federal grant of $125,000 for five years awarded to community coalitions by the Drug-Free Communities Program.
The workshops are part of a process of prioritizing the drugs presenting the most severe risks to young people between the ages of 12 and 18 as well as determining the local conditions that lend them appeal and developing strategies to curb their use.
At the first workshop earlier this month participants chose alcohol, heroin, marijuana and prescription medications as their highest priorities. The grant competition requires that prescription medications be included on the list. The workshop this week was intended to identify the root causes of drug use among the young.
The group ranked the drugs in order of priority based on the results of surveys taken at Laconia High School and other schools in the Lakes Region, which asked students to rate the risk of using different drugs and to report how often they used different drugs. Students at Laconia High School reported that they perceived the risks of smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and abusing prescription medications much greater than smoking marijuana. And while upwards of 80 percent of students said they had never smoked a cigarette or misused a prescription medication, nearly half had drunk alcohol and 60 percent had smoked marijuana.
Mike Persson, who hosted the workshop, said that persistent messages about the dangers to health posed by smoking appear to be have been very effective in reducing smoking among teenagers while there has been very little comparable messaging about the risks associated with marijuana. He suggested that attitudes about marijuana may also be affected by the ongoing debate about decriminalizing or legalizing its use.
Persson said that students appear to appreciate the risks of abusing prescription medications. Although misuse of prescription medications is more prevalent among an older demographic, he pointed out that prescription medications frequently serve as the "gateway" to heroin, which presents a need for education and prevention among the young.
Among the local conditions leading to substance abuse, Persson said the group discussed the the importance of parenting skills and parental involvement and oversight in the lives of young people. At the same time, he said there were suggestions the community could offer more activities to engage the energy and talents of its teenagers.
Persson said in anticipation of the third and final workshop, at which strategies for preventing and reducing substance abuse will be developed, Stand-Up Laconia intends to broaden participation, in particular by including more young people and recovering addicts in the conversation.
The last workshop will be held in March in anticipation of submitting the grant application by March 18.
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