BURRILLVILLE – After attending a national conference on substance abuse prevention, Burrillville High School Junior Samantha Mansolf has brought back some new ideas on how to reach out to her peers.
And her experience will be used by a local coalition of community partners to develop more methods to fight the problem of drug abuse and addiction in town.
Mansolf traveled to Washington, D.C. earlier this month to attend the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America’s 2020 National Leadership Forum, representing the town among thousands of prevention advocates from across the country.
Last week, Mansolf shared her experience with members of the Burrillville Prevention Action Coalition, contributing a fresh perspective to the town’s ongoing effort to work with local youth.
BPAC leader Monica Blanchette joined Mansolf at the forum, held February 3-6 at the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center. Mansolf applied for a scholarship to attend the annual event, and BPAC – a volunteer task force comprised of individuals who are interested in substance abuse prevention issues in Burrillville – paid for her flight with help from a 5K held last year.
“Sam did a really good job of being front and center and making sure our voice from our little corner in northern Rhode Island was heard,” Blanchette said. “This conference has attendees coming in from across the country, with many of the sessions being led by prevention specialists and experts working within the United States.”
Blanchette said she believes there were more than 3,500 attendees, including 55 from Rhode Island.
“I had so much fun,” Mansolf told some three dozen BPAC members in attendance at a meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 12.
Among the speakers at the four-day event was Tom Coderre, the regional administrator for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. A former Rhode Island state senator, Coderre is well known across the state for his efforts in addiction recovery.
He invited the Burrillville teen to join SAMHSA’s Youth Advisory Board to help reach more young people in northern Rhode Island.
“I did say yes,” Mansolf said.
Other conference events included a breakout session on marijuana, and Jim Carroll, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Schools, who spoke on the need for a change to policies on how schools address discipline for students with substance issues.
Mansolf said Carroll discussed alternatives to suspension, such as rehab workshops and clubs for those in recovery.
“They said youth needs to become more involved in the efforts,” she said. “We need support to do that.”
Other CADCA sessions addressed topics such as the need for more enforcement of social hosting laws, and the efficacy of sticker shock campaigns.
“We should rethink the way we teach substance abuse in schools,” Mansolf told the BPAC group last week, pointing to the use of stories versus statistics when talking to kids about addiction.
School Resource Officer Dave Beauchemin noted that in Burrillville, disciplinary efforts do focus on teaching kids about the dangers of substance abuse, rather than strictly punitive measures.
“We go out of our way to try to educate them first,” he said.
Beauchmin noted that earlier this month, nine kids were caught with vaping supplies in just ten days.
“The 17, 18 year old kids are letting the 13, 14 year olds do it,” Beauchmin said. “You’re starting to see more and more where they’re mixing the nicotine with the marijuana. If you wait until high school, it’s way too late.”
Kristin Raimond, who serves on Burrillville’s Juvenile Hearing Board, said that adults are often the biggest obstacle to reaching young offenders.
“We have parents who are brushing it off like it’s nothing,” she said.
“We’re trying to educate parents that this is not the same stuff that was around when they were young,” said Blanchette, noting that more support for students is needed. “We have students who are repeatedly getting caught with the vapes. They have a legitimate addiction.”
Mansolf also pointed to the idea of creating a support group for kids who have parents with addiction issues.
Col. Stephen Lynch asked the young prevention leader if she thought such a program would be well-received in Burrillville.
“It would take a lot of courage for them to attend such a session,” Lynch said of the students, noting that BPAC could pursue grants to launch the group, which could potentially meet during high school advisory.
Mackenzie Raimond, who served as BPAC’s student liaison until she graduated from BHS last year and remains involved, pointed to the importance of finding a place where the students wouldn’t have to worry about parental disapproval, or judgement from their peers.
“It’s better to meet in a safe place,” Raimond said.
At CADCA, local participants also met with Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressman Jim Langevin.
“We got to tell them a lot about what we’re doing,” Mansolf said. “We told them that we needed the funding for more student assistance counseling.”
On the last day of the conference author Alex Berenson discussed his book Tell Your Children, which explores the link between marijuana use and psychological disorders.
BPAC members discussed the possibility of assigning the book as required reading for students.
BPAC’s lively discussion about Mansolf’s take-away from the conference included conversation about the repercussions of marijuana legalization and the idea of addressing legislators through a youth forum.
“It was a really great experience,” Mansolf said.