A state agency promoting alcohol and drug prevention in North Dakota has been encouraging fair visitors to strike up a conversation this past week.
The Parents LEAD commercial booth at the North Dakota State Fair has sought to lure in families to let them know about resources that can help them keep children from ever abusing drugs and alcohol.
"We have been coming to the State Fair for the last four or five years now," said Pamela Sagness, prevention administrator with the North Dakota Department of Human Services. "It really lets us stay connected to the people in North Dakota. It's an opportunity for us to really engage with the public and have them help us with our future efforts."
Crystal Kraft and Patrick Joyce with the Department of Human Services’ Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Division hand out gifts with prevention information at a booth at the North Dakota State Fair Tuesday.
The department seeks feedback on ways to improve prevention programs, which include a website through which many of the Parents LEAD resources are being made available. Parents LEAD is a collaboration between the state Department of Human Services, Department of Transportation, North Dakota State University Extension Service and North Dakota University System Consortium for Substance Abuse Prevention.
The website at (www.parentslead.org) offers developmentally appropriate information on how to raise the issue of drug and alcohol prevention at various stages of a child's life. For instance, presenting a young child with a daily vitamin or necessary medicine opens the door to discussion about the difference between healthy medicine and unhealthy drug use.
"Research shows that parents are the number one influence on whether children will decide to use alcohol or drugs in the future," Sagness said. "There's opportunities every single day that we have with our children to engage in that conversation, but we often miss them.
Surveys show 6 percent of middle school children start drinking before age 8, so it's never too early to start the conversation, she added.
Representatives from the Department of Human Services' Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Division have been distributing conversation starter kits and other resources for parents at the fair booth. The kits consist of questions, such as "What makes a good friend?" or "What food would you choose if you could only eat one food for a week?" The questions are designed to get parents and their children talking so that conversations about drug abuse come more easily.
The Parents LEAD website provides additional tools and offers a blog where people can ask a youth specialist questions. Parents can sign up for monthly e-mails on topics geared to the developmental stages of their children. There's also information for families going through crisis, such as a divorce or a natural disaster. The website contains a link to the Parents LEAD Facebook page.
A portal for professionals who work with families will launch in September.
A second mission of the state's prevention program focuses on prescription drugs.
"We are seeing an increase in prescription drug abuse. We are hearing from treatment providers who are doing a lot more treatment," Sagness said.
Prescription drugs are the third most common substance abused in North Dakota, behind alcohol and marijuana, and 71 percent of abusers get pills from family or friends, she said.
Representatives with the prevention program have been providing advice at the fair booth for securing medications against theft. Using a simple cash box is one option.
Even someone who feels no need to secure medications on a daily basis may choose to do so if guests are present, a contractor or repairman is in the home or if a home for sale is being shown, Sagness said.
The fair booth also has been providing a list of take-back programs that accept unneeded medicines to safely dispose of them.