Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series that takes a look at the Medfield Cares About Prevention program and substance use statistics amongst Medfield teens.
In the spring of 2010, several members of the Medfield community formed a group – Medfield Cares About Prevention (MCAP) – with a goal of increasing substance abuse prevention efforts throughout the town.
“The idea is to get key constituencies around a single table where we can freely discuss these issues and maybe set up sub-groups that will home in on various element of the effort to stem the ongoing over-partying and the abuse of drugs and alcohol by some of our teenagers,” said Bob Maguire, Superintendent of Medfield Schools,
MCAP administered a student survey in November 2010 to collect data on teen substance use in Medfield and after reviewing the data, Susan Cowell, an MCAP member and the school district’s K-12 wellness specialist, came to the conclusion that prevention efforts need to increase as students get older.
“What I think is the most important thing is that parents take away the message that the risk of your child engaging in substance use increases with age,” Cowell said. “[Parents] need to step up their prevention efforts more as [children] get older.”
MCAP shared substance use statistics among teenagers in Medfield and prevention tips to an audience just over 80.
“We had 85 people [attend the November presentation],” Cowell said. “The focus of the presentation was to provide parents information about substance abuse. Some areas of improvement and some areas of concern regarding substance abuse by teens in town and to provide them with resources, where they could go themselves for more information and for help as well as learn from two specialists in the field.”
Those specialists were Sue Andersen, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School at MCLean Hospital and Jon Mattleman, a mental health professional.
“Sue did her presentation on understanding the affects of substance abuse on the adolescent brain,” Cowell said. “She actually showed images so the audience could see actual concrete affects of drug use on the brain.
“Jon came through and related in stories from either his practice or from his parenting experience with his own children instances and solutions he used, some of which he thought were pretty successful. People in the audience seemed to appreciate the realism of his experiences.”
The reality of that presentation, while effective for those present, was only 85 of a town population of 12,529 attended. Maguire , the struggle is finding a wider range of participation from the community and a higher focus on substance prevention.
"What we struggle with is finding a surefire way to get more parents to engage with those parents already working with us, and to get students involved, too,” Maguire told Mulvoy. “After all, they certainly have perspectives to share with us that can be very useful.”
“This is an issue with kids all over, not just in Medfield,” Cowell said. “We are really concerned about our kids’ safety and development and we want to see them make the best choices possible.”
Cowell says the MetroWest Adolescent Health Survey’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBSS) administered to Medfield students has provided valuable information regarding substance use among teens in town, which in turn has allowed MCAP to properly plan programs to address town-specific issues.
“Kids are being pretty honest with their responses,” Cowell said. “People always say ‘everyone lies’ when asked, but [these kids] didn’t lie. … The survey covers many other topics, but we selected substance abuse because we wanted to provide parents with prevention strategies in this area. This is something that is a safety concern for many. So that’s why we elected to highlight that during this presentation and bring in speakers to address these topics.”
After reviewing the data on the three substances the survey covered – cigarette use, marijuana use and alcohol use – Cowell noted several trends among Medfield teens.
“Cigarette use and alcohol use are both going down and marijuana use is starting to climb,” Cowell said. “We are concerned about that and that was really what as behind us wanting to highlight these issues.”
Data was gathered from students in grades 7 through 12. A teen designated as a “current user” was someone who said they had used the substance in question within the last 30 days of taking the survey. In Medfield, 885 high school students (95 percent) and 437 middle school students (92 percent) participated in the survey.
“For us, the data is just information for us to help plan our programs and to ensure the programs we are planning are appropriate and necessary to address any new issues of concern, to track any improvements from programs we have instituted,” Cowell said. … “We do plan to share the data and information with the students throughout the year in wellness classes. As units come up where the data is related, we will utilize the data.”
Cowell explained there are national and state surveys used for collecting data and these surveys are YRBSS. Massachusetts has a YRBSS through the Department of Education.
“For several years, we did our own version of the YRBSS and in 2005, we were approached by the MetroWest Community Health Care Foundation and the Education Development Center (EDC) out of Newton,” Cowell said. “Those are the two organizations that provide the survey for us.”
The surveys are similar and are helpful for groups like MCAP and EDC.
“It’s mutually beneficial because EDC takes the data from all the communities that are participating and they have this regional data that they can use to determine the need for programs,” Cowell said. “Each community can take their own individual data and determine their need for prevention and intervention programs.”
Cowell said the goal of MCAP is to ultimately keep the town and its youth safe by aiding parents in prevention efforts.
“[MCAP] is a group of people that have worked together to give parents tools to help keep the community safe by keeping their own families safe,” Cowell said. “[It] is a group of school administrators, parents from the community, youth outreach workers, local clergy and the chief of police. … The [Medfield] Police Chief [Robert Meaney] is very invested in these prevention efforts and wants to see the kids safe.”
Other Content Related to Substance Abuse Prevention in Medfield:
Log on to Medfield Patch on Wednesday, Jan. 11 at 6 p.m. for part two of this series, which will take a closer look at Medfield’s substance use statistics amongst Medfield teens.