November 11, 2021
Community Voices / East Whatcom parents say, ‘We want our youth to stay drug-free!’
Wa'Lynn Klein, Emma Giri, Kristi Slette and Matthew Thuney

Talking with teens does make a positive difference in attitudes about substance use, advise materials provided online by the Whatcom County Health Department and other local organizations. East Whatcom County organizations have have engaged parents, teens, retailers and others in efforts to prevent drug and alcohol use by youth. (Whatcom County Health Department image)

November 11, 2021
Community Voices / East Whatcom parents say, ‘We want our youth to stay drug-free!’
Wa'Lynn Klein, Emma Giri, Kristi Slette and Matthew Thuney

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The essays, analyses and opinions presented as Community Voices express the perspectives of their authors on topics of interest and importance to the community, and are not intended to reflect perspectives on behalf of the Salish Current.

“We want our youth to stay drug free!” That’s the loud, clear message that the Mount Baker Community Coalition has heard from East Whatcom County parents. 

Message received, and the coalition is working with parents, schools and stores to amplify that message and seek solutions.

To that end, the coalition engaged a local teen as a Summer Youth Prevention Fellow to bring that message to local cannabis and alcohol retailers. Why? Because that’s where adults can purchase legal substances and bring them home where their children and teens might be able to gain access. The effort aimed to increase safe storage and reduce access to substances for youth. 

Restricting access

Our Youth Prevention Fellow has provided the initiative for merchants, parents and students to become more aware of the perils of access to substances and to increase community capacity for safe storage and disposal. We know these steps are important because youth tell us so. When availability and access are decreased, so is youth substance misuse. 

According to the Washington Healthy Youth Survey (2018), more than 80% of 8th and 10th graders had completely avoided alcohol use in the previous 30 days, and 18% had recently consumed alcohol.

Those who did use alcohol reported gaining access in multiple ways, most often at home without permission (50% of the time), followed by from a friend (46%) and at a party (37%).

Of the 20% who had recently used cannabis, the most prevalent way they gained access was from a friend (81%), followed by at home without permission (33%).

Clearly, controlling access is key.

Facilitating communication

If we combine the results of the Healthy Youth Survey with the 2020 Community Survey of Adults, we learn that 90% of parents disapprove of their teen using cannabis or drinking alcohol — which is probably why more than 70% of parents have recently had a discussion with their teen about the risks and consequences of cannabis and/or alcohol. Perhaps as a result of those talks, more than 80% of youth think it is wrong for their peers to use marijuana and 70% of youth think it is wrong for their peers to drink alcohol. Materials to help parents have conversations with youth are available at Parenting Resources for Whatcom Parents.

Clearly, communication is also a key.

Encouraging education

The coalition’s Summer Youth Prevention Fellow helped bridge the gap. With assistance from coalition staff, our Fellow created “Cannabis Sticker Shock” materials for adult consumers and conducted a Community Assessment of Neighborhood Stores (CANS) at alcohol retailers to assess and reduce avoidable access. 

The coalition provided educational packets to alcohol and cannabis retailers for dissemination to consumers, and offered information on the impact of substances on the developing brain of youth, the importance and methods of secure storage for cannabis, and how retailers play an important role in keeping substances out of the hands of children and teens through consumer education and adherence to state law and regulations.

Informing parents and merchants about the alarming effects of cannabis use on a young person’s growing brain and educating them about proper storage of cannabis has been an essential aspect of the coalition’s work. 

Clearly, education is also a key.

Enhancing collaboration

Three cannabis retailers in the Mount Baker region participated enthusiastically in the coalition’s work, with 30,000 stickers and 30,000 educational inserts being distributed with purchases at participating shops. Additionally, 5 out of 12 alcohol retailers located within the Mount Baker School District service area participated and others remain interested and curious about the coalition’s efforts. 

It’s worth celebrating the fact that most alcohol retailers are modest in their advertising practices and have highly effective monitoring systems in place. Another potential cause for celebration: the coalition suggested to those alcohol retailers how to further reduce access by rethinking placement of certain adult beverages so that youth are less likely to access them. 

Clearly, collaboration is also a key.

Restricting access, facilitating communication, encouraging education and enhancing collaboration is what the Mount Baker Community Coalition is all about. Together, we can reduce opportunities for substance misuse and increase the availability of healthy activities and choices for our kids and teens. Won’t you join us?

To learn more about the coalition’s work, including the latest Positive Social Norms Campaign, visit the Whatcom Family and Community Network Mount Baker Community Coalition, find us on Facebook or join us for one of our monthly meetings.

For more information, please contact Wa’Lynn Klein at mbcoaltion@wfcn.org or Emma Giri at connect@wfcn.org or 360-738-1196 ext. 7.

Contributed by Wa’Lynn Klein, Emma Giri, Kristi Slette and Matthew Thuney

We welcome letters to the editor responding to or amplifying subjects addressed in Community Voices. If you wish to contribute to Community Voices, please send an email with a subject proposal to Managing Editor Mike Sato (msato@rockisland.com) and he will respond with guidelines.