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Results: Fayetteville tackles teen drinking

Substance abuse is a favorite topic for bureaucrats and politicians who believe hearing themselves speak on the topic is akin to making a difference. But in at least one West Virginia town, officials decided to make their actions speak louder than those words. Inspiration comes from a place many of us might not have considered.

At one time Iceland had some of the worst teen smoking and drinking rates, according to a West Virginia Public Broadcasting report, but officials decided to do something to truly address the problem. Officials in Fayetteville, W.Va., who also had the best interest of their community rather than political grandstanding in mind, are using the Icelandic template of giving kids something to do and addressing the cultural aspects of substance abuse.

In a place like Fayetteville, the focus is on the nearly endless outdoor recreation possibilities. Project Adventure offers kids the chance to try skateboarding, banjo picking and watersports. According to the report, such activities made the difference in Iceland, where the number of teens who got drunk once a month dropped from 45 percent to 5 percent.

“And so many people, if they can find their passion and follow it with their heart, they’re too busy and just too focused to want to experiment with risky things,” said Katie Johnson of the Fayetteville Health Department.

A researcher at WVU studying the Fayetteville program, who is also Icelandic and was part of the work done there, described it this way: “The work isn’t about drugs. It’s about healthy life and healthy community.”

Communities who find a way to give kids opportunities to be involved, learn new things, discover new skills — to be part of something and to grow — may find they are delaying introduction to the world of substance use and abuse. That delay makes a big difference.

Here is the key, however: “The Icelandic model changed teens’ behaviors abroad, and it could work in Fayetteville, but the adults in town are going to have to commit to making big changes,” said June Leffler of WV Public Broadcasting.

Adults who buy in to the idea of trying a new approach, and are willing to apply that logic to the economy and culture in which THEY live and work, might find it makes a difference for them, too.

Bravo to those in Fayetteville who decided to think outside the box and give it a try.

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