Sum­mit keys youth into drug epi­demic’s re­sponse

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By JA­COB OWENS [email protected]­cil­whig.com

— Next year a new batch of clev­erly crafted ads will be­gin air­ing on TVs and com­put­ers across the county.

What view­ers may not know is that the di­rec­tors, ac­tors and writ­ers for these pub­lic ser­vice an­nounce­ments haven’t even grad­u­ated high school yet.

They’re the work of the fourth an­nual Ce­cil County Youth Sum­mit, which brought sev­eral dozen Ce­cil County Pub­lic Schools stu­dents from all five high schools, and the Ce­cil County School of Tech­nol­ogy, to NorthBay Ad­ven­ture Camp on Nov. 7-9 to de­sign

ELK NECK

bill­boards and create short PSAs that will teach their peers about the dan­gers of drug and al­co­hol abuse.

“The whole idea of the cam­paign is to have a youth­led, adult-guided project. We want youth talk­ing to youth. You go to a lot of meet­ings, you see a lot of adults but you sel­dom see the youth at the ta­ble,” said Vir­gil Boy­saw Jr., co­or­di­na­tor of the county’s Drug-Free Com­mu­nity Coali­tion, which hosted the sum­mit in part­ner­ship with NorthBay and CCPS. “We have to get the youth, we’ve got to get them in­volved.”

But while the opi­oid abuse cri­sis has grabbed head­lines, many of the PSAs de­signed by the stu­dents dealt with sit­u­a­tions and top­ics that might be more re­lat­able to the av­er­age high schooler. To de­velop the cam­paigns, stu­dents worked in groups with oth­ers from their school with help from NorthBay ed­u­ca­tors.

The PSAs will even­tu­ally be posted on the coali­tion web­site’s DrugFreeCe­cil. org, the county health de­part­ment’s drug abuse web­site RewriteYourScript.org, school web­sites and on so­cial me­dia. They also will be air­ing on chan­nels se­lected by DFCC of­fi­cials that tar­get youth de­mo­graph­ics, as last year’s cam­paign did over the sum­mer, reach­ing tens of thou­sands of users.

The stu­dents gave a first look at their work on Nov. 9 dur­ing a screen­ing for County Ex­ec­u­tive Alan Mc­Carthy and mem­bers of the DFCC, a fed­eral-funded coali­tion tasked with youth drug and al­co­hol pre­ven­tion in lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

“The drug abuse epi­demic I be­lieve is the most im­por­tant is­sue fac­ing Ce­cil County, the state of Mary­land and the en­tire na­tion. In Ce­cil County alone, over 50 of your fel­low cit­i­zens have died from opi­ate over­doses this year,” Mc­Carthy told the as­sem­bled stu­dents. “When I grew up, these drugs didn’t ex­ist. So con­se­quently no­body died from them; au­to­mo­bile ac­ci­dents killed the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple in my gen­er­a­tion. But now peo­ple drive much more sen­si­bly due to the rules and reg­u­la­tions, and their knowl­edge of things that are bad.”

Mc­Carthy stressed the fi­nan­cial toll of ad­dress­ing the epi­demic, say­ing the “only true long-last­ing rem­edy to re­duce this il­licit and abuse of drugs is pre­ven­tion,” and en­cour­ag­ing the teenagers to carry on in their ef­forts.

“We must do every­thing we can to ed­u­cate and coun­sel the youth — your peers,” he said. “Stu­dents don’t come to kinder­garten want­ing to ex­per­i­ment with drugs. Those who move along this route as their ed­u­ca­tional lives con­tinue may choose to grav­i­tate to­ward peer groups that will for many rea­sons. This is where peer-pos­i­tive pres­sure and ed­u­ca­tion must rule the day.”

Ris­ing Sun High School tack­led to­bacco in their PSA, craft­ing a com­mer­cial that fea­tures a sparse pro­duc­tion of a teenager be­ing handed cig­a­rettes while a nar­ra­tor com­ments that “it’s never just one.” The ac­com­pa­ny­ing print cam­paigns em­pha­sizes how teens would lose their lim­ited amount of money, as well as suf­fer­ing health is­sues, to to­bacco.

“Most peo­ple don’t know that a sin­gle Juul pod is the equiv­a­lent of 20 cig­a­rettes or a sin­gle tin of dip is the equiv­a­lent of 60 cig­a­rettes,” stu­dent Alexis Brewer said. “With our cam­paign, we re­ally just wanted to ed­u­cate peo­ple and show them what they’re ac­tu­ally con­sum­ing.”

North East High School looked at youth al­co­hol use, fram­ing it as a choice between drink­ing and en­joy­ing a qual­ity life with fam­ily and friends. They are also part­ner­ing with school ad­min­is­tra­tors to have their cam­paign dis­played on TV screens in the school through­out the school day.

In their cam­paign, Bo­hemia Manor High School stu­dents ad­dressed va­p­ing, a trend that they said is grow­ing amongst their peers, es­pe­cially with the pop­u­lar­ity of rather cheap and dis­creet de­vices like Juul. In their PSA, a track ath­lete is show­ing slow­ing be­hind com­peti­tors in a race, then a flash­back shows that she vaped be­fore the race.

Matthew Lynn, a Bo Manor High se­nior and youth leader on the DFCC, asked the au­di­ence of his stu­dent peers how many knew some­one on their team or in their club who vaped. Nearly ev­ery teen raised their hands.

“That’s a prob­lem and that’s what we wanted to high­light with our PSA,” he said. “Our youth care about the short­term ef­fects.”

In con­junc­tion with the TV and print ads, Bo Manor stu­dents are or­ga­niz­ing a Twit­ter cam­paign to help coun­ter­act the preva­lence of va­p­ing-re­lated so­cial me­dia post­ings among their peers, em­pha­siz­ing its neg­a­tive con­se­quences while high­light­ing pos­i­tive al­ter­na­tives.

Ce­cil County School of Tech­nol­ogy stu­dents took on mar­i­juana, dis­cussing the men­tal and phys­i­cal ef­fects of its use as well as the fi­nan­cial drain that use can create for teens. They noted that 22 per­cent of 12 to 17 year olds in CCPS ad­mit­ted in the bi­en­nial Mary­land Youth Risk Be­hav­ior Study to us­ing mar­i­juana, although that num­ber is likely higher.

In their PSA, a high school grad­u­ate cross­ing the stage is faced with a de­ci­sion: choose a joint with a sin­gle ap­prov­ing friend in the au­di­ence or a diploma with fam­ily and friends ap­plaud­ing. View­ers are en­cour­aged to “choose the right path.”

The stu­dents of Per­ryville High School tack­led over-the­counter (OTC) med­i­ca­tions, or drugs that are legally pre­scribed or pur­chased but eas­ily abused. Their PSA de­picted a user whose drugs were as ubiq­ui­tous as their break­fast in the morn­ing. The hope to en­gage their Per­ryville class­mates by or­ga­niz­ing a slo­gan con­test re­gard­ing OTC use and host­ing school as­sem­blies to fur­ther dis­cuss the topic.

Fi­nally, Elk­ton High School ad­dressed heroin — the big­gest killer in terms of over­dose deaths in the county right now — in a PSA that stressed the dif­fi­culty of over­com­ing ad­dic­tion, but also the deadly con­se­quence of not at­tempt re­cov­ery.

Keith Wil­liams, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of NorthBay who also serves as a vol­un­teer fire­fighter in the county, said that he sees the those sit­u­a­tions all the time. That knowl­edge of the real-life con­se­quences was part of the rea­son why he was so im­pressed by the work of the younger gen­er­a­tion.

“I’m grate­ful for you all be­ing here, be­cause you give me hope that you’re part of the so­lu­tion,” he told the Youth Sum­mit at­ten­dees. “The mes­sages you came up with and the amaz­ing in­no­va­tive ways that you worked to de­liver them ... I re­ally think are go­ing to save lives.”

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF MIKE WAR­DEN

Dfc. Lind­sey Ressin holds ap­prox­i­mately 15 inches of her hair do­nated to Locks of Love in sup­port of Ce­cil No Shave 2018. that she

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JA­COB OWENS

At­ten­dees watch a screen­ing of the PSA de­vel­oped by North East High School about the ef­fects of youth al­co­hol use dur­ing the Nov. 9 screen­ing at NorthBay.

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