February 20, 2009

Before someone takes a puff of a cigarette, drinks that first sip of alcohol or samples inappropriate or illegal drugs for the first time, they have to make a decision to do it. Many programs take aim at keeping young people from ever taking that first step toward harmful addictions. In Muhlenberg County, a program called STAND saw some success in intervening for students there; then students in Lyon County patterned their CHAMPIONS program after it. Most recently, Marshall County High School students have formed their own version of the program called STAR, which stands for Stop, Take Action and React.

About 15 STAR members recently met at the Marshall County Cooperative Extension office. They are committed to setting a drug-, alcohol- and tobacco-free example for younger students in the county. It started a couple years ago after Lena Mallory, Marshall County 4H Youth development agent, attended a basic training retreat with five STAR team members and a 4-H volunteer.

"We had heard what the 4-H'ers in Muhlenberg County and Lyon County were doing, and we said ‘we can do that here in Marshall County,'" Mallory said. "We are just like any community; every community is facing substance-abuse issues."

Lois Rogalski is the executive director for the Kentucky Agency for Substance Abuse Policy. She admits there is still a big problem, but she sees great value in youths participating in drug, alcohol and tobacco prevention programs aimed at their peers.

"I know by involving the youth and these high school kids, and getting them into the community, we have a lot better chance than communities that don't have anything like this," she said. "I think it's an excellent program; it's very well run, and these kids do an exemplary job."

When STAR team members go into Marshall County middle schools to talk to students, they go armed with a lot of information like displays that show students the dangers and effects of alcohol, drug and tobacco use. Team members said they believe their message is getting through.

"I think they look up to the fact that we, as older kids, know more about it," said Rebecca Renner, STAR team member. "They can ask questions about it, learn about it and keep themselves from doing it."

"Because there are a lot of bad influences in the schools, younger kids think they have to do this (drugs, alcohol and tobacco)," said Jessica Prosek, STAR team member. "They don't, and they need to know the side effects and what can happen to them if they do."

Rogalski said if the team members can get the younger students to know "hey, we're older; we're not doing it, and we don't plan on doing it," they can tell them why drugs, alcohol and tobacco are not good for them.             "They can show them the information they have and then let them think about it," she said. "I think they are really making a difference in this county."

Marshall County soon will have a billboard with a picture of STAR team members for underage drinking prevention.  Members also plan to host a "ghost out" event later this year, where middle school students will see what it's like to lose a classmate due to a substance-abuse addiction.

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