Some local educators and parents were shocked this week by new statistics showing rates of drug and alcohol abuse among local teens higher than the national average, and agreed that providing more activities for teens and encouraging dialogue among parents is crucial to reversing the trend.
The North Fork Alliance, a Greenport nonprofit, recently published the area’s first comprehensive survey on teenage drug and alcohol abuse, which yielded some startling results — especially about rates of alcohol consumption and binge drinking.
Southold Superintendent David Gamberg said Wednesday that he district’s social worker plans to give students an overview of the survey.
“There’s definitely a concern that the numbers are elevated compared to the national average,” Mr. Gamberg said. “We have work to do to make sure our students make good choices.”
One way the district tries to discourage drinking is by breaking out a Breathalyzer, which Mr. Gamberg said the district has had for years, during school events if there’s a suspicion of intoxication.
“At school functions, we make students aware we might check,” he said.
Alliance officials believe a major cause of teen alcohol and drug use a lack of things for young people to do.
Southold PTA president Angela Tondo agreed that keeping students busy with positive projects is a good way to deter self-destructive behavior.
“We have two movie theaters and only one is open in winter,” she said. “That’s about it.”
Ms. Tondo said more intervention at the middle school level would also be beneficial, such as expanding the DARE program. She added that she understands budget constraints may affect the feasibility of such a move and believes the most crucial factor in discouraging drug and alcohol abuse is parents talking to children about the consequences.
“I think a lot of children say, ‘My mother never said not to’ and then they think it’s OK,” she said. “That’s step one. I think you have start in your home.”
Over the past few months, the alliance has created several initiatives to combat teen drug and alcohol abuse.
Greenport PTA president Laura Hoch said she supports the Alliance’s new online parents’ network, Safe Homes, and believes it will help generate North Fork-specific solutions.
“I grew up in a rural area and understand how it’s hard for teenagers to stay busy doing healthy things,” Ms. Hoch said. “The PTA is on board to distribute [the alliance’s] information and we will do whatever we can to increase awareness in the community.”
Mattituck Superintendent James McKenna and Greenport Superintendent Michael Comanda both said they hadn’t received the alliance’s report as of Wednesday morning.
When asked about the online parent network, Mr. Comanda said liked the idea because it will give parents a great opportunity to discuss their concerns.
As for other ways to combat teenage drug and alcohol abuse, Mr. Comanda said Greenport provides students with a number of activities, including sports, an expanded drama and musical program and community service projects.
Mr. Gamberg said that while portions of the survey paint a gloomy picture, it did include some positive numbers, such as the percentage of students not involved with drugs or alcohol.
“On the flip side, there are a large number of kids who aren’t experimenting or using substances,” he said. “Those kids are to be congratulated.”
With Tim Kelly