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Challenging underage substance abuse an ongoing effort in Lake Forest, Lake Bluff

Men and women in blue and black working for the police departments of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff do a lot to keep their communities safe—resolving conflicts, solving crimes and serving as protective influences—and of their many responsibilities is also the effort to curve underage substance abuse. With the help of the Speak UP! Coalition, underage substance abuse is one challenge these communities face and strive to keep in conversation.

Seeing as how law enforcement data and hospital records show that issues regarding underage substance arise in today’s world, ongoing partnerships linking the local task force and the police departments for Lake Forest and Lake Bluff are hoped to make a difference.

Ben Grum, a student resource officer at Lake Forest High School, has noted some trends from working with the community youth in Lake Forest within the past year.

He said obviously, there is work to be done to curve underage substance abuse, looking at how it does happen—albeit in smaller dosages when compared to other towns.

“Judging by conversations with my partners, it seems to have leveled out or reduced on school property,” he said.

Grum said between the police, the coalition and the schools, there is greater communication in which organizations are able to talk to the kids about the realities of substance abuse.

This isn’t to say that it doesn’t still happen, Grum said.

“Generally we deal with very little drug and alcohol use in schools,” Grum said. “The most common drug is marijuana. The means to consume marijuana is more easily done as you can probably imagine. Vapor is quite popular. It doesn’t have an odor, it makes it harder to detect and harder to enforce. I would guess [the most frequently abused substances in order] are alcohol, marijuana and prescription drug, which has it own set of struggles.”

Lisa Malkove, a juvenile officer for the Lake Bluff police department, said that she notices a lot of peer pressure when police talk to the community youth about substance abuse issues.

“One of the notable trends is we deal with it (substance abuse) in the summer,” she said. “When the college kids come back, that’s when we see that.”

Law enforcement officials sometimes face challenge in working to reduce underage substance abuse, and that’s when organizations such as the Speak UP! Coalition are hoped to level the playing field.

“Most of the time, we get cooperation,” Malkove said. “Usually, we have to contact parents and they’re cooperative for the most part. Sometimes people don’t want to take personal responsibility.”

Andy Duran, executive director for the Speak UP! Coalition, said the biggest indicator to him of progress has been “using data and looking at where we’ve been comparing qualitative and quantitative data.”

According to the coalition’s 2012-2014 survey data retrieved in area middle and high schools, measuring past 30-day use and comparing the numbers to the previous biannual study, drinking declined by 22% among community youth, as did marijuana and prescription drug abuse dropping by 15% and 64% respectively.

Duran said in reviewing what’s happening in these areas to curve substance abuse, the result has been positive.

“The fact that we are collaborating, we feel strongly that everyone has solutions,” he said. “ We’re achieving some really good results in the community.”

Malkove said even as the trend is that substance abuse among underage citizens in Lake Bluff is low in frequency, it happens there like anywhere else.

She said what’s most notable about the effort of the Lake Bluff police department is how they manage to deter first-time offenders from repeating.

“One thing we do is teen court, it’s a court that we send teens to,” Malkove said. “It’s something we offer as a privilege to first-time offenders. It’s a jury of peers, not a judge who orders them to pay. That seems to be successful.”

Duran said while there are challenges to working against underage substance abuse, there are ways to handle that and make a difference.

“Substance abuse is not easy, it requires teamwork,” he said. “There are definitely challenges. There are those who don’t see substance abuse as being issues in the community. I think people think underage drinking is acceptable and I think that perception is changing. “

Duran said the hope is that the partnership between the coalition and the police departments will continue as they work together to challenge underage substance abuse.

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