A substance abuse treatment program that has helped reduce alcohol and marijuana use rates among Bloomington-Normal high school students plans to start taking that outreach to junior high schools.
Project Director Liz Hamilton with Chestnut Health Systems of Bloomington is working with nearly 20 organizations in the Twin Cities to implement a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to combat underage substance use.
“Our biggest concern is this rise in use among the junior high population, which has told us we need to take steps to get to parents earlier,” Hamilton said. “We need to take steps to get to students earlier.”
The Illinois Youth Survey conducted by the University of Illinois shows the percentage of eighth graders using alcohol in Bloomington rose 36% (8.3% to 11.3% from 2016 to 2018, while marijuana use jumped 77% (3% to 5.3%) during that time.
Chestnut plans to use the grant over the five years to implement and bolster an array of outreach programs, including partnerships with Bloomington and Normal public libraries, hospitals, pediatricians and use of social media.
Chestnut also plans to use funding to enable college students to develop a mobile app that lists substance-free activities in Bloomington-Normal to those age 20 and younger. Heartland Community College will offer its Fitness and Recreation Center and staff for activities one Friday evening each month for junior high, high school and college students on a rotating basis.
The funding will also allow for an expansion of ongoing efforts at the high school level, including evidence-based compliance checks, party patrols during high school prom and graduation seasons and parent education.
Hamilton said Chestnut's prevention efforts have reduced alcohol and marijuana use in Twin Cities' high schools, according to surveys, but she is concerned cannabis becoming legal in Illinois next year will make their messaging more difficult.
“What we have been able to do in the high schools through our partnerships is to get messaging directly to parents and messaging directly to high school aged students to make them aware of what the concerns are, especially when it comes to using marijuana when your brain is still developing,” Hamilton said.
Alcohol use among high school students from 27% (from 24% to 17%) from 2016 to 2018. Marijuana use fell 16% (from 13% to 11%) during that time.
Chestnut will also be working to combat teen vaping. The survey showed 27% of high school seniors and 7% of eighth graders in Bloomington-Normal use e-cigarettes.
WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in Central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.