KEENE — A semester-long research project into local youth substance abuse kicked off at Keene State College last week with a panel discussion featuring local substance abuse experts, law enforcement officers, educators and parents.
"We really had a big variety of people," said Keene State College Health Science Assistant Professor Dr. Marjorie Droppa, who is leading the study.
The panel featured all the groups that are affected by teen substance abuse, she said.
Droppa is leading a group of 10 health science seniors in the study that will survey up to 40 Keene High School student volunteers to learn about substance abuse and the conditions that foster abuse in the high school.
The Keene State students will also survey 10 parents of Keene High students independent of the Keene High School students.
The 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey results show Keene High School has on average one of the highest substance abuse rates in the state, Droppa said.
Droppa said she is connected to the community through her work at Keene State, but she is also a member of the Keene Board of Education and a parent of Keene High School students.
An in-depth study into the root causes of the increase could help the community understand what is causing the increase.
"It became very evident that drug abuse is increasing and the trends are that it will continue to increase so we decided that here is an opportunity," Droppa said. "This would be a great issue to research because what we have currently is unquantitative and static. What we don't have are the stories behind the numbers."
Along with asking for the stories behind the substance abuse from teens and parents, the college students also plan to meet with teachers and study the school substance abuse policy with the help of New Futures, a newly formed state-wide group that works to educate on substance abuse issues.
Investigating the school's policy is an important component to the research, Droppa said.
"We want our students to be researchers, but we also want them to use their skills to then use their research to advocate for change," Droppa said.
Holding the community panel to launch the study has only reinforced the importance of the study, she said. "The biggest thing that the students and I felt at the launch of the study was how heartfelt some of the stories were. Hearing a parent weep about how her son's life is being impacted by substance abuse at so young an age. It was very hard to hear those stories and I think it made it clear to us how important this study is and how we all need to step up and do something."
The Keene State students are planning to compile the results of their research into a report and present it to the Keene Board of Education in December.