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Teens share drug-free grant plans

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

September 13, 2006

Hood River Valley High School students had plenty of ideas on Friday about how $275,000 for drug and alcohol prevention programs should be spent.

About 25 teenagers shared their ideas with U.S. Rep. Greg Walden. The federal official visited the school campus to learn more about existing programs and future plans.

Jacob Logan, 17, acted as spokesperson for the group. He believed the federal grant dollars should be used for a continuation of several projects. For example, he told Walden that students had made a video with a split screen that showed the contrast between positive and negative parental role-modeling.

In addition, Logan outlined the effectiveness of the “Every 15 Minutes” program held before the senior prom. To help teens internalize the dangers of drinking and driving, a “Grim Reaper” removed students from class every 15 minutes — the time between deaths in America due to alcohol abuse. The obituary of the “living dead” was then read and his/her parents notified as if the fatality had really happened.

“I think real-life stories, though, are the best way to get our peers to listen,” said Logan, citing one situation where a student publicly recounted losing her father to alcoholism.

Maija Yasui, county prevention program coordinator, told Walden that between 2000 and 2005, there had been a 44 percent reduction in binge drinking among the county’s eighth-graders.

She credited that positive change in statistics to the outreach efforts of students, community members, churches and the Hood River County Commission on Children and Families.

“One of the things we talk about here is that we can do a lot locally but we need our state and federal officials to fill in the gaps,” said Yasui.

Walden was able to help the HRCCCF share its expertise by scoring a $75,000 federal grant for mentoring. Yasui and Joella Dethman, HRCCCF director, can now help officials in Gilliam County and Skamania and Klickitat counties in Washington, set up successful programs.

“You’ve all done such a great job that you can now go and tell other people what works here,” said Walden to his teen audience.

He also obtained $100,000 of continued funding for HRCCF and $100,000 for the Si Se Puede Coalition to further its efforts with Latino students.

Logan garnered a promise from Walden that he would air public service messages designed by students on the Gorge radio stations he owns.

During the Sept. 8 visit, Walden outlined some major steps taken recently by the federal government to stop the trafficking of methamphetamine. He said shipments and sales of pseudoephedrine, a necessary ingredient for the manufacturing of meth, were being more closely regulated internationally.

He said, out of seven meth summits held within his 2nd Congressional District last year, Hood River’s had the best attendance. He said 750 people attended to learn more about the destructive nature of that and other illegal drugs.

Walden said many girls now used meth as the “Jenny Crank” weight-loss plan. However, he said most teens were unaware of the life-long potential for brain damage and other physical ailments caused by ingesting the chemicals and toxins.

Logan then delivered some reassuring news to Walden.

“I know meth is a big problem around the county but we aren’t seeing it here,” he said.

He said that marijuana use was more of an issue among the high school population. Brent Emmons, assistant principal, then brought up an enforcement challenge facing officials.

He said there was no legal way to take action against students coming to school high on drugs because Oregon law forbids possession — but not ingestion.

“It is against school policy but it’s not illegal and that is a bit of a frustration,” said Emmons.

Walden agreed that state and federal officials needed to pass whatever laws were necessary to stop the usage, production and distribution of drugs. He said “sophisticated and deadly” drug cartels were behind many of the major marijuana grows on federal lands in the United States.

He said prevention programs, such as those in Hood River, cut down on the profit margins that were at the heart of those operations. So, the efforts of students and community members were an important part of reducing the problem.

“I want to thank you for the work you’re doing. It’s very important — you’ll probably help more people than you ever know,” said Walden.

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