Anti-drug forum coming to Mattituck High next week

Unsupervised leisure time among youth and substance abuse problems often go hand in hand, local experts say.

That’s why North Fork Alliance spokeswoman Laura Jens-Smith and her colleagues are bringing social worker and mental health counselor John Venza to Mattituck High School on Tuesday to address the problems at a special 7 p.m. forum.

Members of the alliance, described as an anti-drug use coalition, are reaching out to educators and parents throughout the area — from Wading River to Orient Point and Shelter Island — hoping they’ll take the time to hear Mr. Venza’s message about current trends in drug and alcohol abuse. Their goals are to arm parents with information they need to recognize problems early and provide them with resources to cope, Ms. Jens-Smith said.

Mr. Venza, vice president of adolescent services for the Outreach Project Inc., provides clinical and administrative oversight to the largest in-patient adolescent substance abuse treatment programs in both New York City and Long Island. He has spoken frequently on the topic and has developed graduate level courses for Stony Brook University’s adolescent studies program. Mr. Venza, who maintains a private therapy practice specializing in family-centered treatment for adolescents, is a recipient of a Glass-Kreuter Great Teacher Award, established at Stony Brook to recognize individuals whose teaching ability and commitment are judged superlative.

Mr. Venza will discuss how to recognize early signs that children may be using drugs and alcohol and what “gateway drugs” may lead to the use of other, even more dangerous, addictive substances, Ms. Jens-Smith said.

The forum, co-sponsored by the North Fork Alliance, Students Against Destructive Decisions and the Southold Town Youth Bureau, will also include representatives of various programs that can help families struggling with youth addiction problems, she said.

Too many parents are inclined to ignore problems, think their children couldn’t possibly be involved with drug or alcohol abuse or simply don’t know where to turn for help when they do suspect there’s a problem, she said.

“Kids are exposed to drugs and alcohol in schools, and we want parents to be aware of the culture they’re in,” Ms. Jens-Smith said.

It’s important for families to open a dialogue about substance abuse, said Andrea Nydegger, a social worker with Eastern Suffolk BOCES who works as a student assistance counselor at Mattituck Junior-Senior High School. Working with 11- and 12-year-olds can give them tools to better resist temptations being thrust upon them by some of their peers, she said.

And while substance abuse used to afflict mostly students whose parents had a disconnect with their children, said NFA member Trisha Poole, today, even families who maintain a tight connection have experienced their children being drawn into the drug culture.

Friend your children on their Facebook pages, Ms. Nydegger said. Be aware of what they’re posting.

“What you put on your wall is sort of a reflection of who you are,” she said.

If there’s one piece of advice NFA members want to get across to parents, Ms. Poole said, it’s this: “What you don’t know can hurt you.”

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Featuring substance abuse counselor john venza
Open to parents of students from all area schools
Tuesday, June 7, 7 p.m.
Mattituck High School library