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Staten Island Partnership for Community Wellness: Evaluation of the Tackling Youth Substance Abuse Initiative

Teen substance abuse is a nationwide concern, and the Staten Island Partnership for Community Wellness is homing in on local solutions. In 2011 the group organized a coalition of organizations, government agencies, and individuals—including experts in the field—to address this complex problem. The partnership organized the Tackling Youth Substance Abuse (TYSA) Initiative, which came to Metis seeking baseline data on Staten Island residents’ attitudes, behaviors, and perceptions about youth substance abuse and available treatment. The initiative will use these data to inform its public-education campaigns about substance abuse, better coordinate services among agencies, and share information.

In the first phase of the project, Metis developed a survey of Staten Island adult residents to better understand community attitudes and beliefs to help inform TYSA’s work. Metis used census data to develop a sampling plan based on residents’ zip code, race/ethnicity, and income level. A telephone survey of 1,500 residents was carried out by a telemarketing firm, and Metis conducted focus groups to gather in-depth qualitative data on residents’ perceptions regarding alcohol and prescription drug use. Read Metis’s full report here.

Among the key findings were that residents all across Staten Island were particularly concerned about youths’ non-prescription use of prescription drugs. They were divided, however, over whether underage drinking in their neighborhood was a significant problem. Adults ages 18–29 and 80 and older were less likely than other age groups to think that underage drinking and prescription drug use was a problem among youth in their neighborhoods. Higher income residents were more likely to think that abuse of prescription drugs was a problem, compared to residents with incomes under $15,000.

Focus group participants shared similar beliefs about the reasons for substance abuse, such as youths’ natural risk-taking behavior, peer pressure, and low-self-esteem. Residents also pointed to media representations of substance use as influencing inappropriate behavior and felt that there was a false perception that prescription drugs are safer than illegal drugs.

The coalition’s four workgroups will use the data to help plan their actions. Julia Alemany, Metis senior associate, offers one example: “This baseline study showed that, although almost all of the respondents believe that they have at least some influence on their children’s decisions around substance abuse, almost half of them have not talked to their children about the risks of underage drinking or prescription drug misuse,” she says. “TYSA has already begun offering parent workshops at Staten Island schools to raise awareness about this issue and provide them with the tools they need to support their children.” The coalition aims to repeat this study in two years to track changes and improvements that are the result of the initiative’s campaigns and other efforts.