Youth Coalition Discusses Study of Alcohol, Drug Use by Young People in Watertown

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On Wednesday evening, April 11, 2018, members of the Watertown Health Department, Town Council, School Committee, Police, and Recreation Departments, Wayside Multi­Service Center staff, Watertown Youth Coalition Peer Leaders, local clergy, youth, parents, and other interested community members joined together to hear a presentation and to discuss data from the most
recent Watertown Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). This survey was administered in the Spring of 2017.

The YRBS is a health behavior survey usually given every other year to students in grades 7 through 12. The survey seeks to understand not only what risky behaviors the youth may be engaging in (use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, non­-medical use of prescription drugs, etc.), but also to better understand the perception of harm related to these activities. The survey also asks questions concerning stress levels, mental health (including thoughts of suicide), bullying, sexual activity, nutrition, and exercise.

Highlights from the survey reveal that, while cigarette smoking is down, e­cigarette use (also known as vaping) is on the rise. Alcohol use increases as students get older, with a significant jump observed between grades 8 and 9. Nevertheless, overall alcohol use is trending downward compared to previous years. Marijuana is perceived as less risky than alcohol, and the use of marijuana also increases as students get older. Across the board, substance use among the LGBTQ community is higher than those who do not identify as LGBTQ.

In addition to hearing highlights from the survey, Watertown Youth Coalition Peer Leaders summarized the wellness activities they have been engaged in this past year, including hosting a community conversation about “Black Lives Black Lungs” (a film about big tobacco targeting black communities), involvement with The 84 movement (the Peer Leaders mapped the proximity of tobacco retailers to school, parks, and other places teens hang out), participation in Kick Butts Day (an annual event to raise awareness among state legislators about how big tobacco targets young people). They also helped plan the and execute the seventh annual SPEAK
(Sharing Personal Experience And Knowledge) Week, which took place at Watertown High School in March 2018.

Fifty residents took part in table discussions related to issues of interest to them, including youth marijuana, alcohol, tobacco, prescription/opioid use, and mental health and stress. Rich discussion focused on what people think the root causes are and how the community can support the wellbeing of Watertown youth going forward.

The “Well­Being of Watertown Youth” event is supported by Wayside Youth & Family Support Network’s Multi­Service Center, Watertown Public Schools, Watertown Police Department, and the Watertown Health Department. A very special thanks to Not Your Average Joe’s and Donohue’s for their generous and delicious food donations.

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