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Dean Palius has been CEO of People Helping People for 22 years.

An editorial published in the Seattle Times praises Washington’s King County for developing assessment tools and intervention programs “to help detect and prevent teen substance abuse as well as tease out feelings of anxiety or suicidal thoughts.”

Financing for the services was authorized by a voter-approved tax covering about 35,000 students in 12 districts over three years. The amount of tax revenue was estimated at $12.6 million.

The goals of the program are to decrease substance abuse and self-harm, and increase positive connections to school. According to the editorial, a major argument offered in favor of the tax initiative centered on the 2016 results of the state of Washington’s Healthy Youth Survey. In California, the similar survey is known as the California Healthy Kids Survey.

In Washington, the local Healthy Youth Survey found that “17 percent of eighth-graders said they had considered suicide, while 8 percent had attempted suicide during the previous 12 months.”

The editorial continued with the statement that such statistics “should shock us all.” Additionally, students reported that 8 percent use alcohol, 6 percent use marijuana, and 5 percent take prescription drugs that are not their own.

The California Healthy Kids Survey results of Valley students for 2016 should also shock or at least give us cause for serious concern. Our incoming freshman reported that 23 percent suffered depression, and 13 percent seriously considered suicide. This same student group reported 12 percent drink alcohol, 8 percent use marijuana, and 3 percent use prescription pain killers.

While our local students showed they thought a bit less about suicide, if you extrapolate the 13 percent who did to the full high school student population, you a arrive at a number of approximately 130 students. This is far too many.

Additionally, these statistics indicate Valley students use alcohol and marijuana at significantly higher rates than their counterparts in King County.

Our students’ alcohol and marijuana use is statistically worse than that of the students in King County, and the depth of students with depression and suicidal thoughts is only slightly better. I know we love and value our children and students here as much as parents and school staff do in Washington.

First, we need to recognize and accept that there exists behavioral and substance issues amongst our children.

Second, as a communitywide problem it requires communitywide solutions. One of those solutions could be to work together to provide greater resources to our school districts and their nonprofit social-service agency partners, such as People Helping People, to enhance underfunded programs of prevention and intervention. Perhaps the work in King County could be a model for action.

As the Seattle Times editorial concluded, “This program highlights how precious tax dollars can be used for the good of children and community.”

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Dean A. Palius is CEO of Santa Ynez Valley People Helping People.

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