BANGOR, Maine — About 160 students from more than 30 schools around the state gathered Tuesday at the Cross Insurance Center to tell adults how best to keep teenagers from using drugs.
The gathering, titled “The One Life Project — The Youth Project,” asked students to answer eight complex questions in an effort to discover what information or message would keep teenagers from using drugs. Their answers will be published in the near future by the Bangor Daily News. A multi-media anti-drug campaign using their ideas could be launched as early as late this year.
The reason for seeking input from teeangers is in the numbers, Erin Rhoda, a writer for Maine Focus, a journalism and community engagement initiative of the Bangor Daily News, said Tuesday. Nine out of 10 adults who suffer from addiction reported that they began using drugs when they were teenagers, a national study found.
Maine Attorney General Janet Mills and U.S. Attorney Thomas Delahanty, whose offices are responsible for prosecuting drug crimes, participated in Tuesday’s event.
“The goal of the summit was to give youth a forum to discuss the issues they see in their schools and communities and to solicit their ideas on solutions,” Delahanty said after the program concluded. “We’re looking for new, fresh ideas.”
Mills told students to reject a slogan from the country’s failed War on Drugs campaign in the 1980s and 1990s.
“I’m not here to tell you to just say no to drugs,” she said. “I’m here to ask you to say, ‘I know better when it comes to those things.’”
The attorney general quoted from Sam Quinones’ 2015 book, “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.” Quinones wrote that heroin “is a drug that makes being alone not just all right, but preferable. I believe more strongly than ever that the antidote to heroin is community.”
Mills and other speakers urged students to continue the conversations they started in Bangor Tuesday when they return to their schools and home communities.
“You’ve got to keep this conversation going,” Mills urged. “Keep in touch with each other. Know how to help each other and give each other a boost when one of you is feeling low and needs one.”
The program was sponsored by the U.S. attorney’s office, the Maine attorney general’s office, the Maine Principal’s Association and the Bangor Daily News. It was presented during National Heroin and Opioid Awareness Week.
The idea for the forum grew out of the Maine Opiate Collaborative, which brought together experts from the fields of treatment, prevention/harm reduction and law enforcement to make recommendations on addressing the opiate epidemic, and the rising number of deaths from drug overdoses in the state.