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Penn State Drug Abuse Conference Teaches Pennsylvania Teens to Be Leaders

by on June 11, 2015 6:30 AM

Penn State has been on the front line in the battle against drug abuse for 25 years, but youth from across the state have now joined the fight.

As the 25th annual “Leading the Challenge” substance abuse prevention conference kicked off on campus Wednesday, much of the day focused on high school students from across Pennsylvania who were in town to learn new skills to take back to home.

It's the first time the conference, hosted by the Commonwealth Prevention Alliance, has catered to Pennsylvanian youth -- to educate them about drug and alcohol abuse and related issues of mental health and depression.

CPA Vice President Tammy Taylor says substance abuse and depression are unfortunately common all around the state, as revealed by research including the Pennsylvania Youth Assessment Surveys.

According to the State College Area School District’s most recent PAYS survey, alcohol and marijuana use is one the rise among upperclassmen. Roughly 35 percent of the same group of students report signs of depression, while about 20 percent reported having suicidal thoughts.

That’s why Taylor says it’s so important for kids to lead this fight: “youth listen to youth.”

“It’s important that we help these students become leaders in their schools,” says Penn State sophomore and youth mentor Lauren Foisy. “It’s up to us to create the kind of communities we want to live in.”

For Emily Harter and Abi Diehl – both high school juniors from Bedford County – a big part of being a leader in their schools is to give others the courage to make their voices heard.

Harter says its easy for kids to come to the conclusion that “everyone’s doing it,” which can make it more difficult to say no. But when students like Harter and Diehl take the time to create and share short films and PSAs about the many students who aren’t using drugs and alcohol, they’re helping their classmates find the courage to stand up for themselves.

“My cousin died of an oxycodone overdose,” says Cumberland County high school sophomore Peter Greenbaum. “Because of that, I’ve felt the need to be strong advocate for abuse prevention.”

That’s why Greenbaum is involved with his county’s Youth Advisory Board, an activist group doing work all across Pennsylvania.

Greenbaum and his classmates have been hard at work over the past year hosting workshops at various schools about the realities of drug use, doing interviews at local television stations, and promoting drug abuse prevention through posters, banners and social media campaigns.

“We’re really demonstrating that not everyone uses drugs and alcohol, and I think we’re having a positive impact,” Greenbaum says. “We’re showing that anyone of any age can make a difference.”


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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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