Gray Matters - We can do better

By Tanya Mitchell | May 29, 2014
Source: File image

There have been an awful lot of headlines in these pages recently detailing accidents and crimes that involve either alcohol or drug use, and as a citizen who is on the road quite regularly, it is pretty concerning.

As Belfast Police Chief Mike McFadden pointed out in a recent interview with The Republican Journal, local law enforcement isn't just seeing cases like this during the late night or wee hours of the morning. In the course of one recent morning, the chief said he dealt with two operating under the influence complaints.

That same day, Belfast police dealt with what McFadden believed to be a false report from a woman who claimed her home was burglarized and her prescription medications were stolen. The fact that she called her doctor for more medication before reporting it to police was the first thing that raised an eyebrow. The other red flag was the fact that McFadden later learned the woman waited two days to file the report because she learned her doctor refused to refill the prescriptions without a police report was the other red flag.

Then we obtained a few statistics regarding Maine teens and their experiences with alcohol, drugs and tobacco from Patrick Walsh, substance abuse prevention coordinator for Healthy Waldo County. We got some eye-opening information from the data collected from the 2011 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, which offers statistical data about the students' own experiences with tobacco, alcohol and drugs and gauges how those topics are approached in their own families. The findings from the 2011 survey, which is the most recent data Walsh has to-date, showed high school students who do not believe their parents are concerned about marijuana use are more than four times more likely to use it than their peers whose families take a harder position on its use. While alcohol use among our local teens has been on the decline in recent years, Walsh said marijuana use among Maine youths appears to be back on the rise.

We also learned that of the high school students surveyed, Walsh said 83 percent of them agreed that their families have clear rules concerning alcohol and drug use. That's the good news.

But when those same students were asked if they had talked to at least one parent about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol or drug abuse in the last year, just 40 percent said they had. A recent online Journal poll asked Waldo County parents to tell us how often they raise this topic with their kids a couple weeks ago, and just 13 people answered the question — 11 said they spoke to their kids about drugs and alcohol often, while two said they did so infrequently. While we hope the relatively low number of responses is not an indication that readers are not interested in the issue, we really hope that's not the case.

We recognize that it can be tough to find a way to bring up the subject for a number of reasons, especially if your kids are in middle or high school. Teens can become defensive sometimes when asked to talk about these issues, and on the other hand, it can be hard for parents to hear that their kids have been offered drugs or alcohol.

I have to say I was really lucky when I was growing up, because I always knew I could count on my folks for anything. Even if I found myself in a situation in which I either witnessed drug use or was invited to try various substances, I knew I could always pick up a phone and call my dad, no matter what time of day it was. Even if I didn't have my parents' permission to be somewhere in the first place, I knew I could call him to come and get my friends and I out of a situation. Were there consequences when I ended up somewhere I was not supposed to be? Absolutely. But I also knew that my folks would still be open to any questions I had, which I had plenty of time to think about because I would usually be facing a nice lengthy groundation for my antics.

But the point is, I knew they cared enough about me to see the bigger picture. They recognized that they couldn't just drop a couple of brochures in front of me and say, "Don't use drugs or alcohol or you will be grounded until you're 40." At that age, I needed to know more than the punishment I would receive for this kind of behavior. I needed to know why these things were not healthy for me. I needed to know why it would adversely impact any future opportunities I might have, and I needed that conversation to stay open because encountering drugs or alcohol is not typically a one-time occurrence for many youths, no matter who your friends are.

Who better to have those talks with than the people you should be able to trust more than anyone in the world?

I know there are lots of kids out there who, for whatever reason, may not have a trusted adult in their life who they can talk to about these things. As a community, we need to make sure that these young people know they can always go to a trusted teacher, coach, guidance counselor or a school resource officer. I feel like those kids need that safety net the most.

And as a parent, I will continue to do the best job I can do to keep having that conversation with my own son.

We can all do better for our children, and judging by the happenings in this county over the last few weeks, we must do better. The only thing worse than covering an alcohol related crash is having to report that the accident resulted in a fatality.

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