Turnout at the first Drug Task Force meeting in Ashland was a disappointment to the 18 people who showed up.
Those present were all members of organizations involved in reducing tobacco, alcohol and illegal substance use among Ashland’s youth. Members of the Boone County Sheriff’s Department and the Ashland Police Department, the PTA president, City Administrator Ken Eftink and some teachers were all there.
“I think it’s a disappointing turnout, given how much publicity there was,” school board representative Bill Powell said about how few parents attended. Parental awareness of adolescent behavior and substance use is the focus of the task force.
Recent surveys conducted by the task force and the Community Alternative Action Team showed that southern Boone County teens “are above the national average for adolescent substance abuse.” Survey data was analyzed by Powell, chairman of the task force.
The team also sent surveys to parents to determine their perception of substance abuse among students. Powell concluded that “parents are seriously out of touch regarding the extent of tobacco use, alcohol use and drug use at the middle school level.” He said data indicated that parents had a better grasp about high school students’ substance use.
“Each survey reveals the disconnect between what the parents think, especially about middle-schoolers and what the kids say the reality is,” Powell said. “I think a lot of parents are apathetic because they think the problem is nowhere near as great as it is.”
The surveys for parents included feedback options, in which many parents indicated concern with teenage consumption of alcohol and tobacco. Despite the poor turnout at the task force meeting, parents also indicated a desire to get involved.
One idea the team considered would allow willing parents to sign a statement requesting notification if their children are seen involved in any underage or illegal activity. But Mike Hall, an elementary school teacher and coach, was doubtful about the effectiveness of such a list.
“I think there are a lot of parents in our community that would still not believe it,” Hall said.
If the City Council approves future task force plans, there may be more implementation of what Ashland police officer Mason Lumpkins called “shoulder tap enforcement,” where minors would volunteer to be “decoys” and try to purchase alcohol as a way to verify whether individual stores are in compliance with regulations. Decoy minors could also ask adults to purchase alcohol for them.
“It works both ways,” Lumpkins said. “We’re not just trying to get businesses.”
Lumpkins said this type of enforcement would have to be done by Ashland police. State liquor control, he said, “never has and never will probably do any kind of compliance checks. It’s just not politically feasible for them.”
A survey of the Ashland class of 2003 showed that 79.8 percent of that class felt that alcohol was easy to obtain, Lumpkins said. The national average is 73.5 percent.
Lumpkins works full time as a school resource officer with grades five through nine. His job involves regular classroom education to reduce drug use through a program called Project Northland.
“We had DARE when I first started here,” Lumpkins said, “but we wanted something more research-based.”
The task force plans to evaluate Project Northland in the future to determine its effectiveness in preventing substance abuse.
Powell also pointed out the need to inform parents that their own behavior toward substance use can affect their children.
“ ‘Let’s not be hypocrites’ is part of the message I’d like to see,” Powell said.
The experiences teacher Sue Adams has had in her own classroom with Lumpkins illustrate that point.
“The kids will sit in class and we’re talking about open containers, that it’s illegal to have an open container,” she said. “Some kids will go, ‘Oh no! That’s not true, Mrs. Adams. My father drives with an open beer all the time.’ They will argue with Mason and me that no, we are wrong about that law because they live it.”