Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 19, 2013

Early intervention: Tazewell initiative welcomed

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — When it comes to educating youth about the dangers of substance abuse, reaching them at an early age is often critical. That’s why a major grant award announced Monday is welcomed, and should go a long ways in helping to reach and educate students about the dangers of drugs, alcohol and tobacco products.

The Substance Abuse Taskforce in Rural Appalachia (SATIRA) has been awarded a $625,000 Drug-Free Communities Support Grant for Tazewell County. The funds will be used to help engage the local community in preventing substance abuse among youth.

The grant funding comes at a good time. A recent survey indicates that alcohol and tobacco usage among local students is increasing.

In 2012, more than 21 percent of Tazewell High School students and almost 20 percent of Tazewell Middle School students reported in a survey they had ridden in a vehicle driven by someone who had been drinking. The survey also showed 9.2 percent of Tazewell County high school students reported they have driven a vehicle in the past 30 days while drinking. Another part of the survey indicated that 28.5 percent of Tazewell County students reported texting while driving.

The new federal grant will help the SATIRA coalition fund programs in local schools aimed at educating youngsters about these and other dangers.

Tobacco and alcohol are the number one substances abused by young people, according to Sharon Kitts, director of SATIRA. One approach to the problem is to address the illegal sales of drugs and alcohol to underage individuals, including alcohol, tobacco and cigarettes.

In 2012, SATIRA along with Tazewell County Schools, took a major step toward the improvement of the overall academic achievement of students in Tazewell County by implementing a youth risk behavior survey, Kitts said. Students in grades six through 12 participated in this survey created by the Centers for Disease Control.

The survey measured student engagement in health-risk behaviors that contribute to the decline in their overall wellness and put them at risk for dangerous or life-threatening outcomes. It also provided key information on a wide variety of health risks such as smoking, nutrition, mental health, drug use and personal safety.

“The data from Tazewell County students shows that the risks facing our teenagers are real and different from other teens,” Kitts said. “You may even be surprised that rural teens are more likely to have problems with alcohol or illicit drugs. Whether the issue is alcohol, drugs, bullying, sexting or risky driving, studies show that parents consistently underestimate their own kids interest or participation in these behaviors.”

As correctly noted by Kitts, the risks facing teens today are immense. That’s why we are glad to see the federal funding assistance for the local SATIRA coalition. The federal funding award is welcomed, and should go a long way in helping to educate Tazewell County youth about the dangers of substance abuse.