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SERAC Reflects on Youth Prevention Wins in 2023; Looks to the Year Ahead

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In the fight to prevent youth substance misuse, Connecticut remains at the forefront, with strong prevention programs, available funding from settlements, and a long list of services and programs to address and treat addiction. Our state continues to make progress, yet there is still crucial work to be done. Take a look at what’s ahead in 2024.

In our 2022-2023 Priority Report, SERAC examined regional and state data on substance use and other issues among different populations in Connecticut. This revealed a variety of challenges facing young people in eastern Connecticut. Across the state (as well as the nation), alcohol is the most commonly used substance, and alcohol use disorder has increased almost twofold since before the pandemic. Cannabis use is most prevalent among youth in our region, while their use of vaping and nicotine products continues to rise.

These challenges have shaped our list of top priorities and recommendations for 2024 and beyond.

A Curriculum for Parent & Community Education

When it comes to preventing underage substance use, prevention begins at home. That’s why our top recommendation is the development of a regional curriculum to educate parents and community members about underage cannabis and alcohol use.

Our surveys have found that many parents throughout the state have relaxed attitudes about their children using these substances:

  • Among youth in the region who ever drank alcohol, the most common way to obtain it was from their parents, with their permission. (Source: SERAC Regional Youth Survey 2021-2022)
  • More than a third (35.5%) of parents in the region perceived there being slight or no risk associated with youth using cannabis 1-2 times a week. (Source: SERAC Regional Community Survey 2022)

Allowing children to use alcohol and cannabis at home with adult supervision does not teach them responsible substance use—this is a widespread myth that we are working to dispel. Studies have proven that this practice is more likely to lead to a substance misuse problem, and it also puts parents at risk of legal trouble under Connecticut’s social host laws.

It is crucial to get these messages across to adults in our region. By raising their awareness of the harm associated with underage substance use—and about the fines and jail time they could face for allowing it—our prevention efforts can be exponentially strengthened.

Raising Awareness About Dangerous Cannabis Products

In his June 2023 speech, Attorney General Tong expressed concern regarding edibles that mimic or are marketed as “bootleg” versions of popular snacks and junk foods; his office has begun taking enforcement actions against retailers found selling these dangerous products. Because of their often-excessive THC content, children who unwittingly consume these products may require hospitalization.

There is a clear need to raise community awareness about the harm these products may cause, and to reinforce the importance of secure cannabis storage among adult users.

Preventing Underage Nicotine Use

Vaping continues to rise in popularity among young people. As they switch away from traditional cigarettes in favor of e-cigarettes, however, it’s also becoming increasingly difficult for adults to detect when a child has been using tobacco products. As noted in our Priority Report, electronic nicotine delivery systems are constantly available in new camouflaged devices, such as inhalers. There are serious concerns in our region about these products, which are clearly targeted towards underage users.

To help prevent underage tobacco use in our region, we recommend:

  • School presentations on the facts, laws, and dangers of vaping, such as the one we recently held at Brooklyn Middle School.
  • Stronger efforts to educate licensed merchants on properly checking IDs.
  • An increase in age restriction compliance checks.

Prevention Funding from Settlements

There’s good news about available funding for Connecticut’s prevention and treatment efforts, as we heard when SERAC hosted Attorney General William Tong last year to discuss Connecticut’s standing in the opioid epidemic as well as the state’s efforts to prevent youth vaping and underage cannabis use. Tong spoke about fighting and treating addiction with funds which are available thanks to the state’s past actions against the opioid and vape industries:

  • Connecticut is receiving a $600 million payout over 18 years from the opioid settlement, which will be used to support treatment, prevention, and recovery efforts.
  • $16 million from a suit against e-cigarette company JUUL will go to Connecticut’s five Regional Behavioral Health Action Organizations (including SERAC) to fight youth vaping and nicotine use.
  • The state also receives a perpetual annual payment of $120 million resulting from a 1998 settlement with the tobacco industry.

With legislation that allocates these funds towards prevention programs and addiction treatment services, Connecticut is in good shape to address the challenges we face.

Join Us!

Strengthening our prevention efforts continues to be the best way to stop youth substance use before it ever starts. We invite you to join us by making a pledge to protect our young people: tell us how you’ll help in the year ahead!

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