CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A West Virginia University professor says the state needs to take a community based approach when it comes to preventing teen drug abuse.
Dr. Alfgeir Kristjansson with the WVU School of Public Health said the approach comes with a strong focus on collaboration between researchers, policy makers, health professionals, parents and others.
“Let’s work with those factors at the local community level and try to emphasize that we really do not have to wait always until the problems become so dire that we are basically flooded and swamped,” he said during a stop in Charleston.
Kristjansson was the guest speaker during the Rotary Club luncheon Monday a the Charleston Civic Center.
The meeting took place in partnership with the Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Central West Virginia, along with other local and statewide organizations for the “Day of Introspection.” It’s an event that brings health and policy leaders together to discuss way to address the ongoing drug crisis in the state.
Events were also held Monday in Kanawha County at Riverside High School and Capital High School.
Kristjansson said he was part of efforts to eliminate teenage drug, alcohol and tobacco use in his home country of Iceland.
Iceland was the worst country in Europe in terms of teen substance abuse in the 1980s. Today, it has some of the lowest numbers of drug abuse in Europe.
West Virginia can reduce its teen drug abuse by taking a proactive collaboration approach, rather than reactive intervention, Kristjansson said.
He said Iceland and West Virginia are different, yet very similar.
“Obviously West Virginia is probably more diverse than Iceland, but they share commonalities too. We’re both the small units,” he said. “In terms of — and this is the encouraging piece is for me — in terms of what the data actually says, there’s really no difference between kids in West Virginia and kids in all the western countries.”
Kristjansson said it’s essential for teens to feel valued and to feel like they’re productive members of their community, rather than a burden to it.
“I think one of the issues that we need to raise is to provide interesting opportunities for children, so they have something productive and fun to do. There’s a balance that needs to be struck there,” he said.
He also said every child needs a mentor to avoid risky behaviors and to improve academic and social issues.