Close to 500 concerned residents flooded the pews of the former Methodist Church May 24 to focus on a topic that has long been the “elephant in the room” in Rye: teen drug and alcohol abuse.
By Gretchen Althoff Snyder
Close to 500 concerned residents flooded the pews of the former Methodist Church May 24 to focus on a topic that has long been the “elephant in the room” in Rye: teen drug and alcohol abuse. There was a strong sense of urgency and people were ready to join the conversation in hopes of preventing yet another tragic loss of Rye’s youth. Rye-ACT (Rye Action for Children and Teens), the coalition created to address the issue of alcohol and substance abuse among our youth, hosted the town hall meeting to educate the Rye community about the coalition’s plan to combat what is now widely considered an epidemic in our country.
The primary purpose of the meeting was to present the results of the New York State Development Survey, administered in November 2014 to Rye Middle and High School students from grades 7 through 12. The statewide survey was designed to assess risk and protective factors that predict substance use and other problem behaviors among teens.
Before presenting the survey results, several coalition members spoke about their involvement in Rye-ACT. Co-founder Julie Killian reported some staggering statistics: Between 2003 and 2014, there were 460 opioid-related deaths in Westchester County, with the number of these deaths up 61% between 2009 and 2014. In New York State, opioid-related deaths rose 47% between 2010 and 2014. As for our own town, Rye tragically lost six of its own youth in the last few years to drug- or alcohol-related deaths – six too many as far as everyone is concerned.
Police Commissioner Michael Corcoran came equipped with an action plan, which prompted several rounds of vigorous applause from the audience. Corcoran assured residents that he has restructured the Detective department so there will be more focus on narcotics and alcohol enforcement. In addition, eight officers have been assigned to Rye schools to interact with the kids, and begin building important relationships with the youth. The audience was glad to hear from Corcoran that the full-time youth officer position, eliminated in 2011, has been reinstated. And in a few weeks, said Corcoran, the department will roll out an anonymous “tip line,” whereby anyone can call, email, or text the police when they are concerned about a particular individual or situation.
Cameron Kamer, a junior at Rye High School, spoke as the Youth Representative Leader for Rye-ACT. He said that he has already attended one peer’s funeral, and his brother has attended two. Kamer explained that he joined the coalition because he believes there is a better chance of getting through to at-risk teens from their own peers: it becomes “less preachy and more conversational.” Kamer said his goal is to help spread the word about the serious dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, and ensure that Rye teens can feel comfortable and confident choosing an alcohol- and drug-free lifestyle.
Virginia Hartmere, Coalition Director at Pelham PACT, came to the podium to present the long-awaited results of the November 2014 teen drug and alcohol survey, in which 1,472 seventh through twelfth graders participated. The results raised more than a few eyebrows, and produced gasps from many parents in the audience.
When asked about binge drinking (consumption of five or more alcoholic drinks in a row), 25.3% of RHS freshmen and sophomores reported binge drinking in the previous two weeks – more than double the rate of county (12.4%) and state (11.9%) levels in the same age group. Equally alarming, 56.5% of juniors and seniors reported binge drinking in the previous two weeks, again at rates considerably higher than county (22.5%) and state (23.9%) averages. With respect to marijuana use, past 30-day usage among Rye ninth graders was generally on par with county and state levels; however, marijuana use by Rye tenth graders quickly jumped up to 23.9%, more than double the average of county (14.7%) and state (14.7%) levels.
Misuse of prescription pain killers is also an area of concern: Rye eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders reported taking prescription pain killers, including Oxycontin, Vicodin, Percocet, Darvon, or Codeine, without a doctor’s order at double the rate of their county and state peers. RHS juniors and seniors also reported misuse of prescription stimulants, such as Ritalin, Adderall, and Concerta, without a doctor’s order at a significantly higher rate than their peers: Twelfth-grade misuse of prescription stimulants was almost five times higher than county and state levels.
Finally, Rye High students reported that they perceive less parental disapproval when engaging in alcohol and drug use than county averages, and a mere 9% of students reported that their parents would strongly reprove them for using alcohol.
Equipped with significant, eye-opening data regarding teen drug and alcohol use, audience members then split into small breakout groups to discuss one of four topics: examining parental attitudes; proactively addressing high-risk situations; reducing social acceptability; and reducing teen stress levels and enhancing positive coping skills.
After the breakout groups, Nancy Pasquale, co-founder of Rye-ACT, thanked everyone for attending and concluded the meeting with these poignant, heartfelt words: “Rye-ACT is every single person in this community that cares about this issue – we are all Rye-ACT.”
To read the New York State Development Survey in its entirety, visit www.ryeschools.org.