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Issue of Influence: Change gaining momentum in Hubbard County

Sara Bowles

Over the last five years, the Hubbard County Youth Drug and Alcohol Task Force has been working toward an increased awareness about youth substance use and abuse in our communities.

During that time an extensive public awareness campaign has been implemented through articles such as this, newsletters, town hall meetings and educational events. "An Issue of Influence" has been the mantra to bring the awareness that we all have a part in shaping the lives of our youth. During the last few years, a prescription and over-the-counter drug collection program was developed called "Take It To The Box" in response to the increase abuse of these types of medications. Hubbard County and Park Rapids have implemented a Social Host Ordinance to give our law enforcement officers and court system more "teeth" in prosecuting those who knowingly provide for or host events that underage individuals are allowed to consume alcoholic beverages.

Our youth have had more opportunities to attend substance-free events, listen to speakers and have access to in-school education on the consequences that go along with using alcohol, tobacco or drugs during a crucial development period in their brain. Many of the parent resource groups have banded together to sponsor and support parent education surrounding the importance of their input and responsibility to help protect their children during the time when their brain is not able to make the best choices due to development and lack of experience.

Through all of this and more we have continued to pick up momentum toward community change in support of teaching our youth that substance use and abuse is not in their best interests and we are ready to move on to a new phase in our work.

Community change happens slowly. The norms that exist drive how our youth perceive what is good or what brings harm. Every three years the State of Minnesota does a survey of students in grades 6, 9 and 12. Looking at the survey results from 2007 to 2010, we are making some progress for most areas surveyed in regards to substance use and abuse, but we have more work to do. We need to work on perception. Perception is unique to an individual, but driven by a group. When you look at the results of what our Hubbard County students are saying in the Minnesota Student Survey, the majority area youth do not use alcohol, tobacco or other drugs, but that is not the perception. It is not the "popular" thing to do to use substances, but that is not the perception. Changing the perception for youth and adults about underage drinking, smoking and drug use is the next step in the process.

St. Joseph's Area Health Services has taken the lead on this issue and secured funding to continue the process of reducing underage substance use and abuse in Hubbard County. Over the next five years, the Community Health Department will direct resources to focus on presenting the facts, the data and the tools for our community to change the perception and eventually the norm that youth substance use is "just a part of growing up."

The Hubbard County Youth Drug and Alcohol Task Force will be supporting their work to implement primary prevention strategies, positive community norms promotion, increased parent engagement and environmental strategies for community change in regards to underage use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

The time we live in is ever-changing. Our youth are exposed to so much more information, more influences. They have more access to things such as alcohol, tobacco and drugs through increased movement and communication through technology. It is our job as individuals and as a community to be aware of what is going on in regards to our youth, to mentor them by sharing our wisdom, leading by example and supporting them with encouragement and positive recognition. We can only change their perception and their norm by changing our own. It is An Issue of Influence...

For more information contact St Joseph's Area Community Health at 218-237-5474 or log onto our website at