Needed methamphetamine study for juveniles faces budget ax

Hood River drug use survey supporters take case to Rep. Walden, citing alarming trend

Methamphetamine use may be on the rise among juveniles in Hood River County — but the “tool” to measure that alarming trend could fall under the axe of state budget cuts.

But not if Maija Yasui, the county’s drug and alcohol prevention specialist, can get the ear of both state and federal legislators.

“With drug and alcohol use, for every prevention dollar you spend, you save $8 in treatment and health care costs,” said Yasui, who plans to appeal the loss of funding for the Oregon Healthy Teen Survey of eighth and 11th grade students.

She and other members of Hood River’s Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Coalition (ATOD) will take their case before U.S. Rep. Greg Walden on Thursday. Yasui wants Walden to intervene since the loss of the study through the Oregon Health Research Institute could also bring the loss of federal grant dollars. She said grant applications have to be based on support data, which will now be unavailable.

Joella Dethman, director of the Hood River County Commission on Children and Families office from which Yasui works, said within the last five years the teen survey has brought $5.2 million in grants to her office for service programs.

“This information is so useful to plan for everything we are doing,” she said.

Dethman said the survey allows community leaders to identify needs in specific areas, plan appropriate programs and then evaluate the results of that effort.

Of special concern to the ATOD, made of up representatives from area service agencies, are statistics released last spring that show 21 percent of all 11th graders and six percent of all sixth graders using meth within a 30-day period.

Although she wants to double check these figures when the raw results of the 2002 study are released in the near future, Yasui said other data appears to be supporting that sampling of area youth.

For example, Yasui said 50 percent of adult patients seeking counseling to overcome an addiction are now meth users. She said Walden helped Cascade Locks score a $400,0000 Drug Free Communities Grant after state statistics showed that meth use among adults in that community rose 500 percent between 1997 and 1999.

And Yasui said that lowered tobacco use rates among teens clearly show that prevention education works. She is afraid that without a clear picture about what is happening next year it will be difficult to combat what appears to be a county-wide problem with illicit drugs.

In addition, Yasui said the study is also used to provide information about a number of other youth issues, including sexual activity, how much television is watched each day, suicide thoughts, exercise, dietary habits, use of seat belts and whether weapons are carried to school or other public places.

Ironically, even if Yasui does manage to save the school survey, there could be no one to lead the prevention battle since the legislature has reallocated the tobacco prevention dollars that largely funded her position.

Yasui is urging all concerned citizens to contact not only Walden but Gov. Ted. Kulongski and Hood River’s state legislators, Rep. Patti Smith and Sen. Rick Metsger.

“This study is a vital tool that tells us what is happening with these crucial ages and where we should be setting long-term goals,” Yasui said.

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