If you think suburban teens don’t have access to drugs the way kids in the city do, you thought wrong.
“In talking with the [Secaucus] high school students,” said Craig Harris, the chair of the Secaucus Coalition for a Health and Drug Free Community, last week, “many of them kind of took us to the side and said, 'Well, I don't do drugs, but I know people who do and I know where to buy them. I know where to get them.' That in itself, I think, is frightening enough to do something about it. It's like, 'Well, maybe not my kid,' but your kid actually knows where to go get it.”
The Coalition, a volunteer and staff-run organization that has been working in town since 2014, is fighting to raise awareness of and reduce the effects of alcohol and prescription drug use among the city's minors.
Three years ago, the town's Municipal Alliance received a $1.25 million DFC (Drug Free Communities) Support Grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The combination of the Alliance and the DFC is what formed the Coalition.
The group is now looking for volunteers – adults and teenagers are welcome – to work with them.
Three staffers recently sat down with the Secaucus Reporter to discuss, among other things, drug and alcohol access among Secaucus minors and solutions.
Youth access to drugs
An anonymous student survey the coalition conducted in 2014 found that eight out of 10 Secaucus teenagers believe it is “sort of easy” or “very easy” to get prescription drugs without a prescription.
Eight out of 10 teens reported they were “somewhat likely” or “not likely at all” to get caught using prescription drugs, and 30 percent of eighth, 10th, 12th graders in Secaucus reported there is a “slight” or “no risk” in using prescription drugs not prescribed to them.
A separate survey, the Hudson County Coalition Student Survey, focused on alcohol.
According to the survey, 52 percent of Secaucus High School students said it would be “sort of easy” or “very easy” for them to get alcoholic beverages; 40 percent of those same students reported that they get alcohol from home with or without permission.
“Our coalition is very focused on getting parents to realize they need to start talking to their children now.” -- Karina Malko
While the coalition utilizes community-level strategies to fight drug abuse among teens (including media campaigns, school educational programs, and working with other community partners such as youth-serving organizations, law enforcement, and local government), Karina Malko, the coalition's coordinator, argues that there are two more important tools: Mom and Dad.
“Our coalition is very focused on getting parents to realize they need to start talking to their children now,” Malko said.
“A lot of parents think, ‘Oh, my kid is only 12 years old. I don't have to talk to him about drugs,’” she added. “ But here's the thing: if you don't talk to them now, their friends are going to talk to them, and who knows what message their friends are going to give them?”
Malko said some parents might perceive them to be “Prohibitionist” because of their stance on drugs, which she sharply disagrees with. She recalled a back-to-school night event the coalition did in September, where she urged parents to “talk to your kids.”
“Studies show kids are going to listen to their parents more than they'll listen to their friends,” she said. “But if you're not even going to approach that awkward, weird conversation with them because you're embarrassed, your kids will find that information on YouTube, on Facebook, on Instagram, and that may not be the accurate information you want them to have.”
Rev. Will Henkel of the town’s First Reformed Church agreed that heavy drug use is not just an inner-city problem.
“Like most communities, we are proud of our community and not quick to admit to some of the struggles that we have,” Henkel, a clergy representative to the coalition, said. “So the struggle has always been—in as many years as I've been involved—with denial in communities that there are these problems going on here, too. In some of these areas, they're just as severe, if not more severe than national averages.”
“There's a principle here that, in order to have a good time, you have to bring booze into the picture,” Harris commented. “And so the solution really is—and that's a difficult answer, because it's a whole country thing. Why can't you have a good time without the booze? And there's a big question. Why do I have to do that in order to have fun? A lot of people don't want to look at that.”
The Coalition is currently looking to expand its membership at monthly meetings, which happen the third Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. at 145 Front St.
For more information, contact Karina at 201-330-2000 ext 3164, or visit www.drugfreesecaucus.org.
For people looking to safely dispose of their prescription drugs and over the counter medications, the coalition urges you to use the drop box located inside Secaucus Town Hall at 1203 Paterson Plank Road.