We really have a bigger problem as a society when youth are turning to “harder” drugs like fentanyl, heroin and cocaine to try to deal with depression and anxiety.
Empower Watsonville is a youth-led group that focuses on expanding youth advocacy to implement more equitable policies. We developed a survey regarding substance use among youth and the experiences many have had using hard drugs. The reason we wanted to do this survey was to show that apart from cannabis, alcohol and nicotine, youth are using hardcore drugs. We knew this was an issue at schools within the PVUSD because we encountered it firsthand. We have seen youth using harder drugs in the bathrooms and this survey was a result of our curiosity of how present substances are in the lives of youth. It was mind-blowing reading the responses that many youths we call classmates sharing their stories of how they were introduced to substances.
Our survey received about 400 responses from youth across PVUSD, ranging from middle school to high school ages. Therefore, we focus on the work that we do because youth substance use is much worse than we originally assumed.
Sixty-five percent of youth had been exposed to substances between the ages of 11 to 19. Sixty-five percent of youth have been exposed to alcohol. Let that sink in for you.
It’s problematic to think that substances are so easily accessible to youth in our community. We can’t keep treating this like any little problem; instead we should address it by enforcing a policy that will assist youth with having more access to mental health resources and help. That as a community needs to change.
We are determined to demand a clear, helpful policy in schools. Our goal is to diversify the policies in schools to promote help through mental health services rather than other alternatives with the law. Many youths are not aware of their own school policies on substance use. If youth aren’t even aware, then it is clearly not being implemented enough. Youth are coming to school intoxicated and directly punished rather than seeking mental health referrals. This survey that we conducted successfully indicated that youth substance use is a dilemma in our community.
Mateo Rodriguez and Omar Delgado
Empower Watsonville Youth Advocates and Coalition Members