Teen substance use fight goes on

West Vancouver group puts attention on marijuana issues

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor



How to get involved

West Van for Youth

• West Van for Youth’s steering committee meets 4 to 5:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month at Discovery Middle School, 800 E. 40th St. in Vancouver. The public is welcome.

• For questions, call West Van for Youth coordinator Tiffany Schwie­terman at 360-397-2130, ext. 5841.

• The group’s website is http://substancefreeyouth.org.

Live outside west Vancouver?

Other substance-abuse prevention groups in Clark County include:

Prevent, the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Clark County, or call Joy Lyons at 360-750-7500, extension 144.

Unite Washougal Community CoalitionOn facebook.com, or call Margaret McCarthy at 360-635-7449.

• Prevent Together: Battle Ground Prevention Alliance, or call Keno Leighty at 503-888-8409.

Did you know?

• 11 percent of Clark County eighth-graders and 23 percent of 10th-graders said they drank alcohol in the 30 days before being asked bt the 2012 Clark County Healthy Youth Survey. Fifteen percent of 10th-graders and 25 percent of 12th-graders said they drink heavily.

• 30 percent of eighth-graders and 52 percent of 10th-graders in Clark County said they think it’s easy to access alcohol. Nineteen percent of 10th-graders said they’ve tried pot, and 58 percent of 10th-graders said there was no harm in trying marijuana.

• According to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, prevention efforts do pay off in reducing underage alcohol and drug use. In 2012, about 11,000 fewer minors in Washington drank alcohol when compared to two years earlier, according to the department, and drinking among eighth- and 10th-graders had dropped by half since 1998.

Just because adults 21 and older are allowed to smoke pot in Washington, it doesn't mean marijuana is any less damaging to children and teens.

That's one of the messages West Van for Youth hopes to spread in the coming years. Members of the fledgling community organization, which aims to prevent youth substance abuse in west Vancouver, say the 2012 legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington will make their job more difficult.

"We have a lot going on in Washington state right now, and (teens) are very curious about it and want to talk about it and need to talk about it," said Camille Saari, a member of West Van for Youth and a prevention and intervention specialist with Educational Service District 112.

West Van for Youth, founded in 2011, was made possible by the state health department's Community Prevention and Wellness Initiative, which also finances a similar substance-abuse prevention effort in Washougal. West Van for Youth started with just one focus: alcohol abuse prevention among minors. But now it's widening its focus to pot.

"Sometimes people might think, 'Well, marijuana is the lesser of the evils,'" West Van for Youth's coordinator Tiffany Schwieterman said, but any drug use can impact a child or teen's brain development, she added.

The group's steering committee is fewer than 10 people, many of whom have family experiences with substance abuse, or have a passion for working with children and teens.

"I had seen what prevention can do in my life and I wanted to be able to give that to my community," committee member LucyAnn Kendall said.

Steering committee member Angela Riddle, a property manager with the Vancouver Housing Authority, said she thought she was fairly in-the-know when it came to talking to her teenage daughter about drinking. But once she joined West Van for Youth, she was surprised by how much she didn't know, including "putting locks on alcohol," Riddle said. "I would never think to check the alcohol."


So far, West Van for Youth has reached out to thousands of people in the west Vancouver area, and they have a variety of strategies for fighting teen substance abuse. The group is gearing up for a point-of-purchase campaign, to raise awareness among people buying alcohol.

That could include asking convenience stores to hand out informational pamphlets or magnets to people buying booze, or place informational stickers on alcohol containers. The information could include "messaging as to why they should keep it out of reach of youth in their home," Schwieterman said.

West Van for Youth concentrates its efforts on the area within the attendance boundaries of Vancouver's Discovery Middle School. Members host a parenting class called "Guiding Good Choices" a couple of times a year at the school. The group also brings trained high school students to the middle school to talk about interpreting alcohol and tobacco advertisements.

The group also encourages community members to get involved and attend their meetings, at 4 to 5:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month at Discovery, 800 E. 40th St.

"This is an opportunity to really focus on prevention and keeping kids healthy instead of waiting until they get in trouble," Joy Lyons, a West Van for Youth steering committee member, said.

Facts for parents to use in conversations about marijuana

Children are 50 percent less likely to use drugs if their parents talk to them about the risks associated with drug use, according to West Van for Youth. The organization offers the following advice for parents who want to talk to their children about the state law that legalized recreational marijuana.

First, ask what your children know about marijuana and the new law, and correct any misinformation. Then, share more information:

• Most Clark County youth don’t use marijuana, according to 2010 Healthy Youth Survey data.

• Under the new law, it is illegal for anyone 20 or younger to smoke pot.

• For one out of every six teens who use marijuana frequently, their drug use can lead to addiction.

• It’s a felony to provide marijuana to a minor.

• Marijuana use can affect school performance by impacting attention and memory, especially if pot is smoked often.

• The adolescent brain reacts differently to marijuana use than the adult brain. Heavy marijuana use can lower a teen’s IQ.

• Many employers still drug-test for marijuana.

• Driving under the influence of pot is illegal.

• It’s illegal for adults to buy marijuana until licensed stores open in Washington.

• Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, so pot use is not allowed on federal property in Washington.

• It’s illegal to use marijuana in public or to give it as a gift.

West Van for Youth also suggests that parents keep close tabs on where their child goes and whom they’re spending time with, then set rules for those outings. Parents should be willing to talk to their teens about their day-to-day experiences, and they should freely praise their children’s good qualities, according to the group.

If parents plan to use marijuana, West Van for Youth suggests they have a plan, which could include avoiding use around children and locking up their marijuana.

— Stevie Mathieu