Drinking alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use are the biggest risks for students in Cambria and Somerset Counties. Though, the latest data shows that more and more students are making the right decisions.
According to the latest 2017 Pennsylvania Youth Survey results, there has been a decrease in drug and alcohol use for students in Cambria and Somerset Counties.Since 2013, there’s been an 8-9% drop in alcohol use and a 3-5% drop in tobacco use.
However, data shows that more kids are smoking marijuana and vaping.
“Hash oil, tobacco, flavoring. About 13 percent of students reported they didn’t know what they were putting in their vapes,” said Travis Hutzell, the resource development director for the United Way of the Laurel Highlands,
Hutzell and other drug prevention specialists use that information about the risk factors and drug trends to educate schools and families how to protect their children.
“We can go back to the community and develop prevention efforts to address those problem behaviors with the youth,” Hutzell said.
Cambria County Drug Coalition Prevention Specialist Kate Porter is working with schools to add prevention programs starting in 3rd grade.
“By 6th grade, the youth are already dealing with a lot of the risks that we’re trying to prevent,” Porter said.
Parental attitudes toward drug and alcohol use and low attachment to schools and communities can negatively impact children and lead to greater drug/alcohol use. That’s why they recommend early education to teach children how to make good decisions at a younger age.
“It doesn’t focus on one specific substance, it’s the overall decision-making of the students and their abilities to make positive and healthy decisions,” Hutzell said.
Experts also say it’s important for children to form strong bonds with parents, schools and communities and that their families need to lead by example.
“We need to make sure that they have a positive environment, positive atmosphere, positive support, supportive parents that are behind them and focusing on the prevention efforts as well,” Hutzell said. “If we work together, we can have a positive impact on youth drug and alcohol prevention.”
“The majority of our youth are making the right, positive decisions,” Porter said. “I think it’s a way for us as a community, though, to understand, ‘What do the youth need from us?”