Like many community organizations in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are finding creative and alternative ways to engage with each other while respecting “social distancing.” +PYD had many prevention events planned for the month of April, from a screening of Screenagers in D90 to discussions of social hosting laws as proms and graduations were right around the corner. The Drug Enforcement Agency has even postponed National Prescription Take Back Day.

Although we cannot implement the events as originally scheduled, we too are taking to ZOOM, Facebook, and Instagram to get our prevention messages out to the Oak Park and River Forest community. With all the attention on our health (rightly so) and the stay at home orders across the state, why not use this time to discuss the dangers of underage drinking and substance use with your children? If ever there was a time to focus on prevention, it is now.

Granted, there is not much to do but consume: Netflix, memes on Facebook, and yes, alcohol and other substances. This consumption may be driven by a lot of things, ranging from the boredom of being stuck at home, to anxiety over how the coronavirus outbreak may affect the health of loved ones, employment, or the future of the nation. Youth are also experiencing anxiety and uncertainty as they adjust to this disruption in their lives. While adults may find temporary comfort in clearing out the toilet paper aisle in Costco or indulging in a few ‘quarantinis’ with some pals during a virtual social distancing happy hour, these coping mechanisms are temporary and may leave our physical and mental health worse off. There are healthier alternatives to navigate this current situation.

PYD recently received a Drug-Free Communities grant that supports the community to address and reduce underage drinking and substance use by youth. Oak Park and River Forest have some of the highest rates of underage alcohol and drug use in the state for 8th -12th graders. While not all youth drink, alcohol still remains the number one drug of choice for teens. Ron Elling, a PYD Workgroup member states, “at a time when youth can’t even go to the library, let alone school, we need to be seriously concerned about permissiveness and access, not to mention idle time.”

Children report that their parents’ opinion matters the most when it comes to not using alcohol or drugs. Experts say parents should start conversations early about the dangers of alcohol and substance use. April is Awareness Month and what better opportunity to have the conversation when we have the additional family time! SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, suggests talking early and talking often. Parents are the number one protective factor when it comes to making healthy choices. Visit the SAMHSA website for information and guidance on how to start the conversation, samhsa.gov/underage-drinking

ADDRESSING THE VAPING EPIDEMIC IN THE MIDST OF A PANDEMIC

   Youth are vaping at alarming rates, not only of nicotine but high concentrates of THC. Reports have suggested that smoking, drinking, and their long-term health repercussions have contributed to increased susceptibility to the illness in other countries. Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse wrote a warning that the coronavirus “could be an especially serious threat to those who smoke tobacco or marijuana or who vape.” We all know at this point that COVID-19 affects the respiratory system. A weakened immune system and increased susceptibility to respiratory illness increases risk and compromises health.

   According to the Monitoring the Future survey, vaping and marijuana use showed two of the largest increases in the survey’s 40-year history. Daily use of marijuana by 8th, 10th, and 12th graders significantly increased between 2018 and 2019. PYD uses the self-reported Illinois Youth Survey to monitor local trends. In 2018, 20% of Oak Park and River Forest 8th-12th graders had vaped nicotine and used marijuana in the past 30 days. Of those that used marijuana, a high percentage used an electronic delivery system.

   According to the World Health Organization, conventional cigarette smokers are likely to have more serious illness if they become infected with COVID-19. Because vaping can also cause dangerous lung and respiratory problems, experts say it makes sense that the habit could aggravate the symptoms of COVID-19, although longer-term studies are needed. Given the seriousness of the current situation, and the EVALI (E-cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Ling Injury) deaths last year, PYD hopes to raise awareness and education in the community.

   Youth in Oak Park and River Forest need support and guidance to make healthy choices. Experts say finding out what motivates youth to use will also help you guide them not to. Currently 1 in 4 high school students vape according to the CDC, and majority of youth believe marijuana causes little to no harm. PYD encourages anyone from the community interested to get involved with the coalition. Community level change requires the community to work together to support our kids to make better choices. Kelly O’Connor, Prevention Services Manager with Oak Park Township, says, “our best strategy is prevention. Starting conversations and education when they are younger, before high school, may be our best defense and help deter issues later in life. And what better time than now, to start talking.” Joseph Califano, founder of The National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse, states, “a child who reaches the age of 21 without smoking, using illegal drugs, or abusing alcohol or prescription drugs is virtually certain never to do so.”

For PYD resources and Vaping cessation visit oakparktownship.org/prevention-services.

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