Drug, alcohol summit held to initiate solutions
Community leaders gathered recently to begin a discussion about finding better ways to support young people who are struggling with drug, alcohol and mental health issues.
The Dec. 5 meeting, organized by Tahoma School District Superintendent Rob Morrow, was built around two questions:
- How can we ensure that students have the support they need to thrive?
- How can we work together, building on our strengths, to attract new programs, partners, funders and solutions?
The participants include representatives from the city of Maple Valley, youth and family service organizations, local churches, law enforcement, fire district, medical community, service clubs, community center, chamber of commerce and the school district.
Those who attended were separated into smaller groups to discuss and identify current needs and then to look toward solutions. By the time they were finished, the room was crackling with ideas. One of the themes that emerged was the need to provide more information and resources to young people, and make them easy to find. Participants learned that Maple Valley has fewer resources than some of its surrounding communities to assist teens who are dealing with drug and alcohol abuse or mental health issues. Tahoma schools have counselors, but their main focus is academic counseling. The district also contracts with Enumclaw Youth and Family Services to provide drop-in counseling at Tahoma High School. There is no single place or information source in the community for young people in need of counseling and support.
“We thought, wow: If we as community members have trouble coming up with a list, how difficult is it for teens?” said Steve Murray, senior pastor at Real Life Church. Murray’s discussion group was focused on identifying community resources and struggled to name more than a few.
There is also a need for more data about the kind of issues facing teens in Maple Valley and the Tahoma School District. Group members were provided with information from three nearby school districts — Issaquah, Riverview and Snoqualmie — that indicates a majority of teens who access mental health counseling services are seeking help for depression or anxiety, while more than a third are dealing with drug abuse as well as mental health issues. Of students who sought help for substance abuse in those school districts, alcohol is their first drug of choice and marijuana is second. In addition, 55 percent of youth using drugs or alcohol also have mental health issues, and 40 percent have criminal justice involvement.
The group identified several aspirations, including developing a single point of contact to provide information and help to young people. The group also agreed to continue meeting and to focus on making maximum use of existing resources while also identifying unmet needs.
“This is a community problem; no single group or organization will solve it,” Morrow said after the meeting. “I think we’ve got the right people in the room to address it and to begin finding solutions.”