By Valerie Bando-Meinken
While pizza and jellybeans were the main course at the youth work session held last Friday by the Southampton Town Opioid Addiction Task Force, the 23 high school students in attendance were seriously committed to finding a solution to the opioid problem in their communities.
Determined to have their voices heard, the students from East Hampton, Pierson, Southampton and Westhampton high schools with the assistance of Kym Laube, Executive Director of Human Understanding and Growth Services broke into work groups tasked with providing input to the task force. With more than half the students having watched classmates leave school by ambulance due to an overdose, their sights were set on providing the task force with suggestions for preventing the problem from even starting.
“It’s important to educate others about the problem,” said student Juliana Perez. “Teachers just telling us that drugs and alcohol are bad for you and stay away from them, doesn’t work,” agreed Nicole Guerrero and Dayana Garcia. “It’s not helpful. You need to relate to students more.”
The students spoke about a film they had seen that had made an impression upon them. They were shown a CAT scan of an 18 year old girl who was a binge drinker. “It looked like the brain of someone who was 60,”said Guerrero. “That’s what kids need to see.”
The groups’ brainstorming sessions produced a list of recommendations. They suggested that education about the abuse of alcohol and drugs has to start earlier, at the elementary level.
They unanimously recommended that someone with real life experience, someone who has gone through addiction, would make an impact when speaking to students. They also believed that more graphic images of what addiction looks like, would help.
The students also asked for more education for parents. They wrote, “Parents need to be aware that their kids face drugs every day. They need to know that we are scared. Parkland, Florida is effecting students and they are scared to go to school.”
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman who listened to students as they discussed their ideas, said he wants them to feel safe and that he is doing “everything possible.” He told the students, “I want everyone to know that I take this seriously and am dedicated to the elimination of the opioid problem. Your input is really important and we will look at all your suggestions.”
Aware that mental health plays a big role in addiction, students expressed the need to band together to raise awareness. They plan to organize and start a march against drugs. “We need to connect the young people on Long Island,” they stated. “Make them see that they have peer support and they can surround themselves with people who think like they do.”
The students also spoke about the lack of “fun things” for them to do. They acknowledged that they appreciated the arts and culture available but mentioned that the East End does not have a public indoor venue that could hold youth-targeted events like concerts. Schools, they said, have few clubs that are fun. Some wished for a club dedicated to dancing, or intramural sports, photography, or biking. Others asked for more job and internship opportunities. The group agreed, “There’s little that we can do out here. We’re far enough from the city to make it expensive to get to. Some of us are too young to drive. We can’t take Ubers so everyone just hangs out and sometimes that’s how it starts. You’re just bored.”
The youth workshop was the second of its kind organized by the task force. “It’s important that we get the youth involved in this process,” said Task Force Coordinator Connie Conway. “We need their voice.”
Another public forum is planned for April 11 at the Southampton High School auditorium. Several students who attended the youth workshop on Friday evening have volunteered to be speakers at the forum. For Ashly Vega, “It was definitely a worthwhile evening. I think it will make a difference,” she said. Vega believes, “They will try to do some of the things we said.”
For more information contact the Town of Southampton Supervisor’s office at 631-283-6055.