MERRIMACK — Attempting to address risky behaviors such as substance misuse, numerous events are being planned over the next few months to educate and hopefully prevent drug use and vaping among young people, school officials said.
“This is a difficult topic to address,” said Shannon Barnes, school board chairman. Although people may not want to talk about teen drug use, it is a topic that is certainly relevant and important to discuss in order to make positive change, said Barnes.
Every other year, students at Merrimack High School complete a voluntary Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Over the past decade, the results have revealed that marijuana use is on the rise, driving while drinking is more common and students are being given more alcohol from others.
“We also saw an increase in suicide and depression rates in those 10 years,” said Mark McLaughlin, assistant superintendent.
And as the district prepares to offer its 2019 survey this fall, McLaughlin said he expects that nicotine and vaping will be front and center — a habit that he said has exploded in the last year among youth.
While much has been done to address teen substance misuse in recent years, Merrimack is planning several more events this spring and summer to reinforce the dangers of certain behaviors.
About 10 years ago, the community received a $1 million grant that helped spearhead Merrimack Safeguard. That grant is set to expire this fall, so the remaining funds must be expended by that time, McLaughlin told the school board recently.
He said Merrimack Safeguard, in conjunction with the District Mental Health Committee, is working to bring the Hidden in Plain Sight exhibit to town to make families aware of how common products such as e-cigarettes and inhalants are easily available and easily hidden.
It is also attempting to host Breathe New Hampshire, a group that addresses the impact to student bodies when smoke, nicotine, vaping or marijuana is ingested.
“This is all in the spirit of education — not to scare,” said McLaughlin.
A separate initiative to bring the band Recycled Percussion back to town for a community concert is also being explored. In addition, featured speaker presentations are being planned to help focus on the relationship between social and emotional challenges and opioid abuse, he said.
Merrimack Safeguard continues studying other strategies and ways to remain involved in the community once the grant expires later this year, according to McLaughlin.
“I think there is a real opportunity and momentum that we can pick up on where parents and adults and kids in the community are seeing the impacts of the opioid crisis,” said Andy Schneider, school board member.