Opinion

Teen substance abuse: A vexing and ongoing issue | Editorial

It’s good news that the Vashon Island School District was awarded a contract enabling it to house a professional in the area of teen substance abuse. The new hire, announced last week, represents one more step in an ongoing effort on the community’s part to address a vexing problem on Vashon.

It’s also encouraging that Superintendent Michael Soltman is not mincing words when it comes to describing the situation. Vashon, he said, has a “difficult drug problem.”

The solutions, though, are remarkably elusive.

The Vashon Alliance to Reduce Substance Abuse, the new name for the Island’s Drug-Free Communities Coalition, has been trying for a couple of years now to alter some of the foundational conditions that foster drug use and alcohol consumption among teenagers. The group is attempting to confront the problem methodically and organically, looking at root causes, working to shift cultural norms and building a meaningful coalition that can address the issues collaboratively.

But such work is slow-going and daunting, and while important steps are being taken, their impact — especially midstream — is hard to discern.

Indeed, until the effort becomes truly broad-based — involving an across-the-board spectrum of parents, community activists, coaches, teachers and businesspeople — it seems likely that the kind of wholesale change the coalition seeks will not take place.

Beyond the tight-knit circle of those who are in the trenches, the attitude on Vashon seems largely lackadaisical. There’s little outrage, for instance, that stores are selling cigarettes to minors, little concern about the results of a sting operation a couple of years ago that found several outlets selling alcohol to minors. Sheriff’s deputies are largely absent at night, failing to patrol — or so it seems — the party hotspots on Vashon.

Part of the problem, it seems, is an ironic one: On the surface, our kids are doing all right. They’re in musicals and sports, graduating from high school, heading off to decent colleges.

But that veneer masks a reality that some parents and community activists know all too well: Plenty of teens are falling through the cracks, failing — sometimes profoundly — to reach their potential; many others are heading off to college or other ventures without the skills in place to confront a culture of use and abuse.

We wish Terri Tilotta, the new substance abuse counselor, success. She has walked into her new job with ideas already in hand. But she alone can’t right this ship. The larger community needs to decide this issue matters and step in to help.

 

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