National report finds New Hampshire struggling to curb teen substance abuse

Last modified: Wednesday, July 22, 2015
New national statistics put New Hampshire second best in the nation for overall child well-being, but the state didn’t fare well when it came to drugs and alcohol.

In fact, it tied for worst in the nation for teen substance misuse, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count data.

New Hampshire, Vermont, Colorado, Hawaii, Montanta, New Mexico and Wyoming all share the highest rates of teens who abuse drugs and alcohol, the national report showed.

New Hampshire health officials pointed out the percentage of teens who reported abusing substances has stayed constant from 2011 to 2013: 7 percent, or about 7,000 teens, according to a press release from nonprofit organization New Hampshire Kids Count.

New Hampshire Kids Count Executive Director Ellen Fineberg said the state’s poor performance nationwide is another indicator that more needs to be done to address issues of substance abuse.

“I think it’s really troubling that our state has such high levels of misuse of alcohol and drugs,” Fineberg said, adding she wants to dig deeper to understand why that is.

Fineberg noted the national study looks at “extensive, repeated” substance misuse by teens.

“This puts it in a national context, it lets us know this is a serious problem,” Fineberg. “We need to be paying attention to this important issue.”

Though health officials in the state say the picture painted by the data shows New Hampshire still has a long way to go to, they say the rate of teen drug and alcohol misuse in the state have actually been going down.

New Hampshire data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey collected from 2003 to 2013 shows a 14.2 percent drop in teen alcohol use and a 6.2 percent drop in marijuana use in that time.

In that 10 year span, teen alcohol use went from 47.1 percent to 32.9 percent and binge drinking dropped form 30.6 percent in 2003 to 17.3 percent in 2013.

Marijuana use fluctuated between 2003 and 2013, but still dropped overall from 30.6 percent to 24.4, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

That survey is conducted every two years, and the data for 2014 and 2015 will be available later this year.

Tym Rourke, chairman of the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, said he believes that drop is directly related to education and prevention efforts aimed at teens in the state.

Rourke says that even though New Hampshire’s rates of teen substance abuse are still some of the highest in the nation, progress is still being made.

“It doesn’t seem like we’re having an impact,” Rourke said. “We are.”

In addition to his place on the governor’s commission, Rourke also oversees substance abuse treatment and prevention funding at the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, which has committed spending about $12 million in 10 years to further prevention efforts in the state.

Comparatively, the state allocates $275,000 to spend on prevention each year, but state officials are also able to leverage federal grant money toward the effort.

“What we are funding is incredibly effective, but it isn’t enough,” Rourke said. “To really do prevention well, you have to invest in a sustained way for a long period of time.”

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ella_nilsen)