KPHD talks focus on substance abuse among youths

The fight against substance abuse was a common theme during presentations at the Feb. 6 Kitsap Public Health District meeting.

Dana Bierman, program manager for KPHD’s Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention program, compared substance abuse to “falling into a river.” She said some people can avoid it and “make it over the bridge safely.” But others they have to “throw them a life jacket.”

Environmental factors like family, community, school, mentors and peers can either help prevent abuse or be a risk factor.

“Positive social factors can keep them from drugs,” such as leadership and engagement activities, along with social ones, she said.

For example, she mentioned Your Opinion Matters, an event where youth engaged with policymakers and talked about issues important to them. She also mentioned, “My Shoes, My Story,” an art display that was shown throughout the region as a conversation piece as youth shared what it was like to “walk in my shoes.”

Bierman said KPHD is targeting reducing cannabis and tobacco use for ages 12-20. She said they are working with schools on prevention toolkits, classroom education and training for adults associated with schools.

KPHD board member and Bremerton mayor Greg Wheeler said he’s glad KPHD is focusing on prevention because cities often get involved after there is a problem. “The back end is much tougher to deal with,” he said.

Two people focused on that topic during public comments. One asked that the KPHD support a bill in the legislature that would allow the state to match local funds when it comes to mental health and addiction.

Akuyea Karen Vargas said parents and youth need training, along with teachers and administrators.

KPHD health officer Dr. Gib Morrow also talked about substance abuse.

He talked about KPHD partnerships training people to deal with such abuse. He said 70 people came to a recent event in Poulsbo, adding Bainbridge Prepares is interested in doing the training using state Department of Health materials.

Morrow said youth need to be warned about the risk of taking pills because the deadly drug fentanyl can be found in many of them. “It needs to be discussed publicly,” he said, adding the DOH says overdose is the third-leading cause of death for youth, behind firearms and motor vehicles.

Morrow also said flu, COVID and Respiratory Syncytial Virus have been less intense than the past two years. He said he thinks the worst of it is over, but “there could be another bounce back.”

Two years ago 50 people were hospitalized with COVID; that dropped to 25 last year and about 10 now. And while hundreds died of COVID a few years ago, there were less than 10 this past year, he added.

Adrienne Hampton of KPHD talked about legislative priorities. She said as a government agency it can’t lobby the legislature, but it can say what it supports.

Priorities include: Equitable access to affordable and quality health care; environmental health programs and assessments; facilitate a child death review statute; and access to immunization technologies.

Hampton said the last item is controversial in that it is divided along party lines. She was told it’s because there are trust issues in communities on the topic.

Hampton said the legislative session has passed the midway point, bills supported by KPHD are doing well, and they “have an eye on” a bill that would allow naloxone in schools.

Jessica Guidry, assistant director of the KPHD Community Health Division, talked about a Maternal and Infant Health Forum last summer. She said participants agreed on the need for collaboration, shared knowledge and to come up with solutions to deal with problems.

Top three goals are: improving maternal and infant health services, navigation and funding.

Concerning environmental health and substance abuse, she talked about the need for holistic training.

New board member Ashley Mathews, a Bainbridge City Councilmember, said what stood out in Guidry’s presentation was health disparity and that intervention leads to successful outcomes. She added that for mental health, connections are so important. She said people felt disconnected “all through the epidemic. There’s a lot of loneliness right now.”