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County organizers try Life R U Ready event on local students

Jun 10, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Local health officials recently role-played the consequences of drug use and underage drinking with county sixth-graders, hoping to reduce the risky behaviors. The program is new to Fremont County but has been successful elsewhere.

"We're trying to teach these kids at a young age that substance abuse has serious consequences, and we're trying to help them experience those consequences in a safe environment," said Fremont County Public Health nurse Teresa Nirider. "Therefore, when they're presented with the opportunity, they have the skills and knowledge to say, 'No, this isn't what we want to do.'"

Roughly 180 sixth-grade students from Fremont County school districts -- including schools in Pavillion, Shoshoni, Dubois and Fort Washakie -- attended the Life RU Ready? program May 6.

At the event, students found themselves in a play-acted party where they could choose to try "drugs," portrayed by Skittles, or engage in other risky behaviors. Then, officials took them to scenes showing the consequences of their choices, including being put in a pretend jail or seeing a simulated crashed car with a vehicle rolled over on top of a mannequin.

Drug use by minors

Fremont County has problems with drug and alcohol use among minors, Nirider said.

A survey of area students showed 8 percent of middle-schoolers had used marijuana in the previous 30 days, and 7 percent had used inhalents. The number for marijuana use more than doubled to 18 percent for high school sophomores and seniors, but dropped to 4 percent for inhalents.

"We want to catch them before they get the idea that drinking and using drugs is cool," Nirider said.

In Fremont County, 2 percent of middle-school students reported abusing over-the-counter drugs in the 30 days beforehand, and 2 percent said the same about prescription drugs. Those numbers rose to 4 percent and 6 percent among high school sophomores and seniors.

Organizers of the event particularly wanted to prevent sixth-graders from starting to drink alcohol, Nirider said.

A statewide survey of students in 2012 showed 19 percent of Fremont County sixth-graders had consumed alcohol in the past. The number jumped to 43 percent by eighth grade.

Program's results

A committee of local health and law enforcement officials decided to organize a Life RU Ready? event. Officials in Campbell County developed the program in 2007, and it had been used in Washakie County, but never before in Fremont County.

The local group chose the program because it had been successful in Gillete and Worland, Nirider said.

2010 surveys of participants in the Campbell County program found the Life RU Ready? event had a positive effect on all age groups, which included seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th-graders.

Areas affected included participants' beliefs over how much their actions and decisions affect their lives, propensity to engage in risky behaviors and attitudes regarding current use of tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs such as methamphetamine, heroine and cocaine.

Each age group, however, only saw a positive effect in two or three of the areas, numbering nine total.

Nirider said she is waiting for the results of a survey of participants from the Fremont County event. She hopes to see an effect in the statewide survey of student behaviors, which is conducted every two years.

"It's going to take some time to see a reflection in the survey, but ideally we want to see that impacted," she said.

Organizers hope to put on another Life RU Ready? event next year and expand it to include students from Fremont County school districts in Lander and Riverton.

Officials from Fremont County's public health, sheriff's, coroner's and county attorney's offices, as well as staff from the county ambulance department, Prevention Management Organization, Injury Prevention Resources and other groups hosted the event in the Fremont Center at the Fremont County Fairgrounds in Riverton.