Concerning Reports

Front Page / Feb. 16, 2017 9:58am EST

Group Examines Youth Risk Survey
By Dylan Kelley

A meeting was held on January 31 at Vermont Law School in South Royalton to discuss “alarming” new survey data from the annual Youth Risk Assessment Survey (YRA) as well as the Young Adult Behavior Survey (YAB).

Attended by professionals from the education, healthcare, and law enforcement fields; the meeting was organized by Catherine Hazlett, executive director for Vermont Health Connections.

“An alarming percentage of youth are emotionally distraught,” she said in a phone interview with The Herald, citing numbers indicating that as much as 35% of high school age students reported feeling “sad or hopeless” for weeks on end. Further, as many as 12% of the same group reported having planned to commit suicide at least once.

Attributing the high incidence of stress and depression-related responses to the effects of poverty and the opiate crisis, Hazlett underlined the need to coordinate resources for at-risk teens and young adults experiencing cyber bullying, loss of peers to suicide, and family members struggling with addiction.

Additionally, the surveys also demonstrate that groundwork for addictive behavior patterns is laid early. Seventy-eight percent of students in grades 9-12 reported “easy access” to alcohol and 24% of the same age group reported use of flavored tobacco products that have been widely criticized by wellness advocates for deploying youth-centric marketing techniques. For Hazlett, the numbers show a clear need for communities to systematically address circumstances leading to addiction behavior.

Among those solutions are strategies to develop a culture of support among neighbors and community members for young adults when their risk of addiction is highest, typically when 19-25 year olds leave behind the support structures of high school academia, group sports, mentors, and family, says Hazlett.

“Let’s partner with local service providers and local teens,” she said. “That’s what we need. To sit down with some teens and ask some very delicate questions and find out what’s going on so we can coordinate resources and services.”

Dr. Lou DiNicola, Medical Di- rector at Gifford Medical Center, echoed Hazlett’s emphasis on implementing structural solutions to the addiction cycle.

“Whatever money they’re spending probably won’t be enough,” said the 41-year hospital veteran in reference to Governor Scott’s proposed budget increase of approximately $3 million for the Vermont Agency of Health’s substance abuse disorder spending.

“Lack of youth support leads to increased addiction risk,” he said as he described GMC’s addition of a full-time psychiatrist specializing in substance abuse and addiction. “You have to have community buy-in to be successful.”

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