Coalition Against Save Abuse says community needs to come together

The state of substance use at North Shore


The North Shore School District is facing challenges in addressing substance abuse among its students, according to a recent presentation by school officials and representatives from local organizations.

Dan Doherty, the district’s director of counseling, highlighted the district’s use of the Bach Harrison Prevention Needs Assessment Survey to guide their prevention efforts. They also used information from the Youth Development Survey, a free survey provided by the state, which the district has discontinued using because they found Bach Harrison more comprehensive.

The program measures the need for prevention services in areas such as substance abuse, delinquency, and social behavior through anonymous polling of students in eighth, 10th and 12th grades. The recent presentation focused primarily on substance abuse and social behaviors.

In a collaborative effort, Doherty was joined by Adam Birkenstock from the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and Alison Camardella and Jolie Silva from the North Shore Coalition Against Substance Abuse. The presentation provided an overview of the current state of substance use among students in the district and the initiatives in place to address the issue.

“So the Bach Harrison was designed to measure the need for prevention in the area of substance abuse, delinquency, social behavior and violence,” Doherty explained. “Here at North Shore we don’t see a lot of violence, we don’t see a lot of delinquency, so as we go through tonight the emphasis is really going to be on substance abuse and social behaviors.”

According to the data presented, the district conducted surveys among students in grades 7 through 12 to gauge their usage of various substances, including alcohol, cigarettes, vaping, and marijuana. The results revealed a noticeable increase in alcohol use among students, particularly between seventh and eighth grades. By 10th grade, nearly 29 percent of students reported using alcohol within the past 30 days.

Doherty emphasized the importance of addressing alcohol use early, as the numbers showed a sharp increase from 13 percent in ninth grade to 29 percent in 10th grade. While these numbers are still below the national average, some parents who attended the meeting appeared stressed by the statistics.

When it comes to other substances, the district’s students reported relatively low usage. The percentage of students who reported vaping or using marijuana was lower than the national average. However, there was a slight uptick in usage among older students, particularly in 12th grade.

An important aspect of understanding the drug use was through the analysis of “risk factors,” which determine the physical, emotional and mental risks of drug use, and “protective factors,” which detail what elements help prevent students from falling into drug and alcohol use. Birkenstock explained that in both cases it often comes down to how drug and alcohol use is presented at home.

“So if you have a hard day at work and come home and think ‘I could have a glass of wine,’ that stress is a risk factor,” Birkenstock said. “But a protective factor might be something like coming home and saying, ‘I don’t want to see my kids look at me and think wine is a good way to deal with stress.’”

The presentation also addressed the sources of alcohol for students. A significant portion of students reported obtaining alcohol at parties, often with parental permission. This data highlighted the need for community-wide education and involvement to address the root causes of substance abuse.

Camardella, the president of CASA, stressed the importance of community collaboration in tackling the issue. She emphasized that the only way to address the issue at its root was through a community effort, such as through pledges to not serve alcohol to students at parties.

“Our strength lies in the community getting involved in this issue,” she said. “We can’t solve it as a board. We solve it as a community.”

The district also partners with LICADD for presentations on vaping and substance abuse and has worked closely with CASA on initiatives such as social hosting awareness and parent education programs.

Despite the progress made, the presentation acknowledged areas for improvement, particularly in terms of parental attitudes towards substance use. According to the survey, 48 percent of parents allowed their children to use alcohol at home with permission, and 27 percent allowed use at friends’ homes with permission.

These findings point to a need for continued education and engagement with parents, as parental acceptance of substance use can increase the risk of future problems.

Another area of concern is the mental health of students. The data revealed high levels of depressive symptoms, particularly among seventh and ninth graders. This poses an additional risk for substance abuse, as teens struggling with depression are more likely to engage in substance use.