The Marianas is involved in an ongoing study of public health issues on substance abuse, which pulls in data from the Health Department, police, and youth services and schools, which have provided a statistical glimpse into the state of teenage alcohol consumption.
It's being co-ordinated by the Commonwealth Health Centre, which is also trying to tackle substance abuse not just among teenagers but across the population. The CHC has found that prevention methods in use on the US mainland don't work so well in a Pacific setting, and is coming up with its own, island-focused approach.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: James Arriola, Commonwealth Health Centre
ARRIOLA: There's three primary problems that we found through our research and what we do at the State Department and the first one is substance abuse and misuse and mental health as it relates to a history of place, particularly related to the historical drama of the region. The second is the disconnect between the traditional systems and the national state institutions that have been developed here since the 70's as we became a Commonwealth of the United States. And the last one is as you mentioned, accessibility primarily through positive social norms around things like alcohol and retailer violations and outdated laws also.
COUTTS: I was going to ask you, when we're talking substance abuse, are we only talking alcohol? Is it prescription drugs and illicit drugs as well?
ARRIOLA: Yes, we talk about tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs and now the new product effort that we're working on towards prevention is in prescription drug misuse and abuse.
COUTTS: How abused are they? Are they social drinking or are they abusing the substances they're taking, the teenagers?
ARRIOLA: Well, we know that when young people get a hold of alcohol, because it is illegal and most of the time, because of culture reasons and so forth, they're not allowed to drink in front of elders or adults, so when they do get alcohol, often times they don't sit around and drink it slowly, I mean responsibly. They binge drink and a part of that is the consequences associated with that those that type of behaviour. So often times, I mean they are using it already under age. It's already misused, because it's illegal and it affects their adolescent brain, but it's often mostly abused because of the manner in which they use the substance in the islands.
COUTTS: Well, the statistics that you've got are alarming, because nearly half of the public school high school students are regular under age drinkers. What are the schools doing? Are they doing education programs and what about the community at large, how are they responding to this issue?
ARRIOLA: Yeah. So what we're trying to do is we're trying to create a more holistic system of care that works to bridge the gaps between our traditional systems of understanding prevention and our new national institutions that serve as a primary source of education education currently, and that's primarily where the problem has existed. We've taken a lot of the responsibility away from the traditional entities, like the extended family network and applied them to places like the school system, the health care system and the public safety, the Police Department to kind of take care of the community. And so what we've been trying to do is re-establish a more collaborative endeavour to address these. Now the schools have some basic substance abuse awareness. Our department and the Public Health does a lot of education in Outreach and then the public safety also does some minor ones. But what we're really trying to do to build the roots back into the community is establish community-based programs that use the evidence-base or data that they're familiar with at the community level, to kind of really enforce these traditional values that have worked for many generations, for thousands of years in regards to preventative care, and as a supplement to the state institution, so that there's more of a collaboration amongst the state and the people that it serves, so.
COUTTS: Have you been able to gauge the impact this drinking, binge drinking I guess, is having on their education and their health?
ARRIOLA: Yes. Well right now, as you know, I'm sure you've heard ?? before, one of the biggest problems in the region, not just in the Marianas Islands, but throughout Micronesia is we have an epidemic of non-communicable diseases going on and a huge part of that is primarily related to substance misuse and abuse, particularly with alcohol and tobacco and so that's a huge, huge problem that we're working on. So we have to collaborate all of these entities to kind of move forward with that.
Another one of the biggest problems that we see with youth primarily is that there are so truancy problems at school, but a lot of it is associated with defiant behaviours, like theft, burglary and one of the biggest problems we have here is drinking and driving, not just with the youth, but with the adults.