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Town hall to address OC teens' drug use

Oregon City Together is hosting a town hall this week with an expert panel discussion about OC’s successes and challenges in preventing youth marijuana and alcohol use.

OCT is a coalition of several members of the community including health-care professionals, youth, law enforcement, civic groups and parents who are engaged in cultivating local high-school and middle-school students to become healthy and productive citizens.

Coalition coordinator Elizabeth Russell expects the town hall will be a great chance to clarify what the landscape for drugs and alcohol is like for kids today. Oregon City’s 2012 Student Wellness Survey shows usage rates similar to the state’s, but of particular concern is the higher average of eighth- and 11th-graders riding in a vehicle driven by a parent or other adult who had been drinking.

Additionally, about 5 percent more of OCHS students report heavy drinking (five or more drinks within a couple of hours) than the state average taken from Oregon Healthy Teens Survey in 2013 (18 percent of 11th graders). While the rate of difference with state levels is not large, it could indicate a dangerous precedent.

“One of the messages we hope to convey with the town hall is that our perceptions of what is happening are not always consistent with reality,” Russell said. “This is an important conversation about positive community norms and how we can challenge our assumptions and lean into what is working in the community.”

OCT also discovered good news from its annual parent survey: More than 72 percent of parents with kids in the fifth through 12th grades would “under no circumstances” provide alcohol to minors. Russell and coalition partners would love to leverage the fact that most Oregon City parents have set clear limits as a way of encouraging the other 28 percent to follow suit.

In terms of the changes in marijuana itself, coalition leaders warn parents that the level of THC in typical street pot has gone up steadily so that the 1 percent potency of what adults might remember smoking in their youth is closer to an average of 15 percent now, with some concentrations coming in at 30 percent and higher.

“That’s a lot for a developing brain,” Russell said. “Until recently, we didn’t have a clear picture of the adolescent brain and its vulnerabilities. But with new scanning technology, we can see that early use of alcohol or marijuana can hijack the reward circuitry of the developing brain and make long-term dependency more of an issue.”

Another challenge for parents today is the degree to which social norms have accepted underage drinking and legalization of marijuana use, which also has health and social costs in the hands of children.

“While there are certainly adults who use marijuana recreationally or medicinally, it’s important to know that young people are in a delicate developmental time and that youth use is a very different picture,” Russell said.

The town hall is from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, June 5, at Oregon City High School, 19761 S. Beavercreek Road. It is a chance for parents, mentors and neighbors to learn and share concerns and resources, but also to talk to one another and build a stronger social net to protect kids. The event will launch OCT’s Parent & Mentor Alliance, and coalition leaders hope lots of folks will attend and be a part of refreshing Oregon City’s commitment to keeping kids healthy and safe.

The expert panel will include Clackamas County Community Prosecutor Bill Stewart, Donny Wright of Wright Counseling, Brian McCrady of the Clackamas County Division of Children Youth and Families, and OCPD School Resource Officer Steve Heryford. There will be a chance for questions, an introduction to positive community norms, and a screening of the most recent video made by kids in OCT’s Positive Media After School Camp.

OCT promises lively discussion, food, door prizes, and the chance to be a part of solutions through the organization’s new Parent & Mentor Alliance.