A relatively new coalition of interests in Aberdeen that aims to reduce youth drug use will host a series of public events next week to educate parents and school staff about current drug use trends.
Harbor Strong, the name for the coalition, is comprised of health and school officials, law enforcement officers and other sectors of the community with the goal of reducing drug use and other risky behavior.
Harbor Strong mostly deals with Aberdeen, and acts in a similar role to the Hoquiam-based coalition called My TOWN, which was founded in 2013 and also aims to reduce youth drug usage. Both coalitions and a few other groups are sponsoring presentations next week by Idaho law officer Jermaine Galloway, the details of which can be found in a separate Daily World article.
The group was started with a state grant through Grays Harbor County’s health department, and while it does aim to reduce opioid use, it places a lot of focus on early efforts to reduce underage drug and alcohol use, and looks at what barriers there are to reducing it.
Members include public health officials, as well as student parents, church and business representatives, who all meet once a month to discuss trends they’ve noticed with youth drug use and hear from others.
“You get a different perspective when you have a law enforcement officer and a school person. The diversity of the group is encouraging,” said Coalition Coordinator April Heikkila, who also works at Grays Harbor Public Health and Social Services.
Some work by the coalition so far includes a community survey in partnership with My TOWN, given to adults, asking them questions like how serious of an issue marijuana and alcohol use is among underage youth, and whether parents have discussed the risks of alcohol and weed with their kids.
Heikkila said she’s interested to see the results next week when the coalition’s youth members will ask focus groups of students at Aberdeen High School similar questions to see if adult perception matches what teens say.
Some results, like how the adult survey found more than 80% of 144 parents surveyed in Aberdeen and Hoquiam said they had talked to their child in the last three months about marijuana and alcohol use, could be interesting to compare, Heikkila said.
“We want to figure out, are youth hearing that message, do you feel like you’re really having that conversation?” she said.
The group also analyzes state data, like the recently-released 2018 Healthy Youth Survey, which shows results among students grade six through 12 about how serious drug and alcohol issues are in specific counties.
The coalition has also worked with the Aberdeen Police Department to install a permanent drug disposal bin in the department lobby, and to hold drug take-back days where people can safely dispose of prescription drugs and talk to coalition members.
At Miller Junior High School, the coalition has arranged for health and PE teachers to implement a life skills program, which helps students learn refusal skills and targets the social and psychological factors that might lead to violent behavior or use of tobacco, alcohol or weed.
As an end goal, Heikkila said both Aberdeen and Hoquiam’s coalitions would like to have a drug-free, safe community, and that she looks forward to Galloway’s presentations next week. She said Galloway would do a scan of the community, visiting retail spaces like marijuana stores to see what the primary risk factors are in the county.
“He’ll have a very good perspective of what’s happening in Grays Harbor, so I’m excited to hear what he has to say,” said Heikkila.