Health officials target substance abuse

By Edward Carpenter

Staff Writer

REDWOOD CITY — An estimated 42 percent of seventh-, ninth- and 11th-graders in the county have used alcohol at some point and about 25 percent have used marijuana, according to a report to be presented to the county Board of Supervisors today.

While reliable historical data on whether these numbers are higher or lower than in the past is hard to come by, health officials estimate the county spends as much as $600,000 a year dealing with substance abuse. The report released today includes a plan to help save some of that money and calls for steps ranging from better data collection to reducing advertising of alcohol at public events to expanding school education programs about drugs.

“It’s my opinion that [substance abuse] is probably the biggest threat to health in our community,” said the county health officer, Dr. Scott Morrow. “If you look at substance-abuse expenditures in the county, including some jail costs, health care costs, accidental injuries and homelessness, they’re really driven by substance abuse.”

Abuse by adolescents isn’t the only group of concern, however. An estimated 6 percent of the county’s adults are chronic drinkers (averaging two or more drinks a day), according to the Roadmap for Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Prevention report. That number compares to about 4 percent nationwide.

Bingedrinking by adults (five of more drinks on the same occasion) also exceeded national figures, with 16 percent of county residents engaging in the practice in 2004, versus 13.7 percent across the country.

The new plan signals a shift in dealing with such problems to a more comprehensive approach toward prevention, Morrow said.

Finding funding to coordinate the cooperative approach between non-profits, private businesses, schools and government as envisioned will be its own challenge, officials said.

“One of the things we always try to do when embarking on something like this is find ways to redirect funds, and also finding grant funds etc,” Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson said.

Gibson and others agreed that, while the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Prevention task force — which was responsible for bringing the report together — will shepherd the plan through implementation, passing a bond to fund it should be considered.

“It’s one thing to talk about building a healthy community, but another to taking the steps to create a healthy community,” Gibson said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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