one lowcountry organization is taking that task to heart
The threat of underage drug and alcohol abuse is ever present. As a community, we are not immune to this threat. Young people today have access to more than we can imagine: advertisements for alcohol popping up on their computers with a click of a mouse, romanticizing the lifestyle that accompanies these products, or the social pressures of drugs being the "cool" thing to do. Young people are faced with these issues every day, online, in the media, and even by their peers.
In February of this year, Amanda O'Nan, Principal at Hilton Head High School, along with Sean Alford, the former Chief Instructional Services officer for Beaufort County School District, sought to do something about this threat to our community, which has caused harm and taken the lives of beloved teens all too soon; thus, the Lowcountry Alliance for Healthy Youth was born. Their mission is "to bring together all sectors of our community to identify and implement strategies that promote positive youth development by addressing substance use/abuse and related risk behavior."
The coalition will target the following sectors of our community: Parents and parent organizations, schools, government, law enforcement, service organizations and community leaders, medical and counseling professionals, social services, youth and youth organizations, senior citizens, and media. It is imperative to work in unison to send a consistent message to the youth of our community that we care about them as future resources and leaders. Dr. Loretta Novince, Developmental Psychologist and a founding member of the Northeast Community Challenge Coalition, explains that the goal is "to collaboratively work together to change youth culture and help them really understand the effects different substances have on brain development." Teens live in the present and might not understand that these risk behaviors could lead to detrimental academic, health, and social consequences.
While there are multiple strategies in place to educate people about issues such as breast cancer, heart health and childhood obesity, when it comes to substance abuse, the focus is mostly on the fact that it is illegal. The coalition wants to educate on the risks and consequences associated with substance use and abuse. As a community, the coalition calls for us to rally together to offer a web of protection by reducing access and availability of these substances, which reduces usage.
Even some over-the-counter drugs are being abused. Beaufort County has the largest senior citizen population, due to its retirement destinations. If you were a grandparent with grandchildren visiting, or even living with you, would you count your medication? It's that easy. By simply being aware and cleaning out your medicine cabinets often, it decreases accessibility. Christie Jeter, Prevention Specialist for the Beaufort County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Department, a resource used by the Lowcountry Alliance for Healthy Youth, explained about a national medicine take back event, where medication is properly disposed of if it is no longer needed. Another great program that is setting community wide awareness in motion is Palmetto Retailers Education Program (PREP), an educational program that teaches the legal responsibility of not selling alcohol and/or tobacco to underage teens, knowing and understanding the state laws, and knowing how to refuse service to underage teens the proper way.
"The marketing and advertising campaigns surrounding alcoholic products are clever and creative," Jeter explained. "Alcohol isn't always in the alcohol aisle." During the summer, daiquiri mix is right next to the barbeque items and the Capri sun! Products on the market like this are fashioned for convenience and functionality, such as straws, pre-mixed drinks, or a bag to easily throw in the freezer for instant use. Energy drinks can be especially dangerous because of their packaging. Some alcoholic energy drinks so closely resemble the packaging of non-alcoholic energy drinks that a parent may not know the difference between the two if they're not paying close attention during checkout and their child throws it onto the counter! Young people today have many ways to obtain and hide illegal substances, such as a hide-a-safe soda can, or sandals with hidden compartments, all found easily online. These are just some issues the coalition educates on, as well as informing parents or homeowners about their legal responsibilities and the liabilities of allowing substances into their homes or making it available to minors.
The goal is not to preach. It is to enlighten and change the focus by giving credit to those doing the right thing. The pre-frontal cortex is the decision making part of the brain. If it is damaged, a young person is less likely to achieve academically, physically, or socially. The Lowcountry Alliance of Healthy Youth is working together to break the cycle of squandered futures and the deterioration of physical and mental health. The most important strategy now is to raise the funding to field an assessment in the four Hilton Head schools for 7th through 12th graders in September. "The assessment is vital for us to take the data from this and understand what the problems are. At that point we will go through a process of coming up with strategies for our organization to go forward with," explained Phyllis Neville, the Communications Liaison and Executive Council Member.