Drugs, alcohol easily accessible for Greencastle youth

Christy Unger

Drugs and alcohol are a problem in Greencastle. And Waynesboro and every other town in Franklin County. That is the perception of adults from many segments of the population who were surveyed by The Community Coalition.

Representatives from Healthy Communities Partnership, a fledgling organization devoted to preventing substance use and abuse by youth, shared information from the fall 2009 survey, and incorporated statistics from a 2007 Pennsylvania Youth Survey. Nearly 100 adults from social services agencies, law enforcement, municipal governments, schools and other groups heard the report 'State of Drug and Alcohol Use in Franklin County' on June 14 at the Rhodes Grove Conference Center.

The survey showed that 85.7 percent of people agree that the Greencastle-Antrim School District supports "no use" messages about tobacco, alcohol and other drugs; 87.7 percent believe there is a drug or alcohol problem in town, and 93.4 percent think "drug selling" describes or affects Greencastle. Heroin was seen as readily accessible due to the I-81 corridor. When asked the severity of the impact of substance use or abuse, no one said "none at all."

The people polled think the top five drugs easiest for adults to obtain in Greencastle are tobacco, alcohol, inhalants, marijuana and prescription drugs. The top five for youth are tobacco, inhalants, marijuana, alcohol and steroids. The answers varied by degrees on those and other substances for the surrounding municipalities.

In Greencastle the age group deemed to be most affected by substance use and abuse was 16-17 years, while in the other communities it was 18-20 years.

Franklin County youth reported that 18 percent of them had driven under the influence of alcohol and 23.4 percent with marijuana.

"These figures really scare me," said Christy Unger from HCP. "And our tobacco use rates are off the charts."

The study also revealed area teens have higher usage of alcohol, inhalants, tobacco and prescription drugs than the national average.

The Community Coalition formed in August 2009, gathering businesses, media, citizens, social services and others to educate youth and adults and to get prevention programs a more prominent place in the county.

"We really are trying to impact the youth," said Stacy McCole, chairman of the coalition. "Our volunteers really drive the effort."

The group sponsored a free showing of the movie Twilight last fall, and used the opportunity to tell the 250 kids who attended about blood-borne illnesses. They were aware that the popular vampire movie and book series had inspired a phenomena, teens biting each other. CC hosted other healthy and educational activities and plan a night at a park in Chambersburg for families, but are short on manpower.

"The problem is so big," Becky Greenawalt, director of Drug and Alcohol Programs for Franklin and Fulton Counties, told the crowd. "We need help. We can't do it ourselves."

The Community Coalition asked interested parties throughout the county to get involved. CC would offer support and point people in the right direction for information or services. For people willing to be active at the planning level, the board meets the second Monday of the month at the Agricultural Heritage Building on Franklin Farm Lane in Chambersburg, from 9-11 a.m. It welcomes more members.

What has been done?

In "an ideal world" the coalition members would like to see a prevention specialist in each school district, a centralized prevention center for afterschool and weekend activities, and adequate funding, including for tobacco use prevention, cut during Pennsylvania's budget crisis.

For the present, Franklin and Fulton counties have one prevention specialist, Lauri Ryder. She praised the popularity of Reality Tour, now in its fourth year. The program introduces teens to what really could happen if they take drugs or drink alcohol, during a three-hour experience at the Franklin County Courthouse. Ryder has also visited schools and facilities for at-risk youth, and holds inservice workshops for nurses about street drugs.

Other personnel and organizations that are part of the prevention infrastructure are school resource officers, Head Start, Pennsylvania State Police community education officers, Waynesboro Communities That Care, Women in Need education, the Keystone Health AIDS/HIV Education Program and Summit Health.