Fighting substance abuse
Driven by a personal mission to see connections between people in her community thrive, Kathy Getting, Power Up YOUth coordinator, wants to educate the public about one of the things that can deter her mission: substance abuse.
Getting said the organization has a few goals. One of those is to increase the partnerships and collaborations between community members to reduce underage substance abuse. Another is to assess what is going well in the community and find where gaps in that coverage is, and to understand what substance abuse looks like in Hamilton County.
“We know that substance abuse happens everywhere,” Getting said. “But what it looks like in each community is a bit different. So, we know we’re most effective when we can really understand what it looks like here.”
Getting helps to find solutions to those local conditions and causes of substance abuse. However, she recognizes that no one organization or agency can do it on their own. That’s where she comes in. Getting helps to facilitate those local partnerships between local organizations including, Hamilton County Public Health, the Webster City Police Department, Crimestoppers and more.
“The more people we can get involved, the more effective we are,” Getting said. “My job is to help other people do their work.”
There is much work to be done on researching and combating substance abuse in Hamilton County. Getting said the most abused substance by youth is alcohol, followed by marijuana, tobacco, then prescription drugs and meth. However, she said that most youth do not use drugs or alcohol.
Helping to spread that message that substance users are in the minority is a local student lead group called SHIFTs Happen, which stands for Students Helping Impact Future Teens. Getting said that staff coalition members had been looking to form a youth-lead group since they received a drug free community grant in 2007. When Getting went with a few local students to a youth leadership conference, one of the students brought back the idea to start a SHIFTs Happen group in town.
While there are a couple of adults that help facilitate the group, Getting said it is largely student-run. Among their activities, the group sends speakers to talk with students in eighth grade near the end of the year just months before the enter high school. This peer education is aimed at helping students understand that they don’t have to succumb to peer pressure upon entering high school.
“When kids come into high school, there’s this one perception that you have to go out and party to fit in. The message of Shift Happens is that, no, you don’t have to do that. You can do what’s right for you,” Getting said.
Getting has recently spoken with local groups about medical marijuana. Over 20 states now have medical marijuana laws, have decriminalized marijuana use, or have legalized its use on a state level. A bill to allow medical marijuana in the Iowa House was dropped in late January and never made it out of a subcommittee.
At two local Kiwanis groups, the Rotary club and the League of Women voters, Getting began her presentations by asking those listening what they valued. She said those values add up to the common good in a community, and showed why expanding the availability was not a common good.
“The role of a citizen in a democracy is to balance the needs of the individual versus the common good. It’s very easy to see how it affects us individually, but we have much more difficulty understanding how policy affects everybody,” Getting said.
In a paper recently published in PNAS by Meier et al, a study of persistent cannabis users from their teens to their late 30’s found that users had a permanent drop of IQ by eight points. Getting said that loss could put someone in the lowest third of the intelligence range.
“What we want is strong kids in a strong community,” Getting said. “They feed into each other. One of the things we need to do to ensure that we have both is to reduce substance abuse.”
Getting said she has seen a decrease in kid’s perception of the risk of using marijuana and a weakening in their perception of peer disapproval in using marijuana. She said that marijuana is covered often in the news and kids are exposed to it through popular media, and much of it makes light of the risks of using the drug.
The costs of substance abuse in America adds up financially. Getting said that the total cost of substance abuse in America, including lost work productivity, healthcare and crime related costs exceeds $600 billion annually. The argument that money would be gained by taxing legal marijuana falls flat for Getting, who said federal and state alcohol taxes raise about $14.5 billion, only about six percent of the $235 billion the substance costs the country annually.
With messages about substance use and abuse are common from media and culture, Getting said that youth from the youth summit she attended said they want more influential adults in their lives. She said concerned parents should do their research to be informed and also talk to their kids about alcohol and drug use.
She said one roadblock that some parents have when talking to their kids about drug and underage alcohol use is their apprehension to seem hypocritical if the parents themselves used those substances in their youth.
“I think it’s more important that you talk to your child than let them develop an addition,” Getting said. “What you’ve done in the past doesn’t really matter. It’s what you do today and tomorrow . You don’t have to tell them you’re horror stories, but you should share your concerns for them.”
She said that listening to what children have to say about their experiences with substances, peer pressure and more is equally important. While Getting said that kids will often dismiss a question of if they use substances, she said that if a person’s gut tells them that their child is using them then they should take action.
For more resources for parents and youth, Getting said the website drugfree.org contains a lot of useful information. She also encouraged people interested in her program to visit the Power Up YOUth in Hamilton County, Iowa page on Facebook.