The Youth Vaping Problem

Candice Tétrault •

To the Editor:

I appreciated the CRC’s January 10th letter and the details it outlined regarding how the Town and CRC are addressing Human Services on island. There is no doubt investment in this sector has increased.

That said, none of the programs referred to in the CRC’s letter are a targeted, strategic prevention plan, specific to protecting island youth from the harms of substance misuse/dependence and all associated adverse effects.

We go to where the youth are in a youth prevention plan: in school.

This is not to say families abdicate responsibility for educating their children. It is to say that we frontload substance education in youth, everywhere we can. We make it a part of culture.

I’m aware that Nantucket A.S.A.P. has had access to developmentally appropriate drug/alcohol curricula - grades K through 12 - and the funds to help implement such curricula.

As a mother I’m saddened and scared about middle schoolers and high schoolers vaping in great numbers. It deeply concerns me that some truly cannot stop. We’ve had two recent island deaths, fatal fentanyl overdoses, where vaping devices laced with fentanyl were the lethal means. This indicates to me that our island youth are now on the front line of our fentanyl issue.

I think it is necessary to make a direct correlation between these two recent vaping deaths and the issue of children vaping at the level of middle school and high school.

Research tells us that when deaths are happening in a community as a result of a lethal means available to children (vapes), without education around the dangers of said lethal means, and support around its cessation, well, one has only to extrapolate what happens next. Addiction forensics would tell us inaction in this context is an absolute gamble. This is not an accusation of any party but an evidence-based fact, inviting us to find prompt and relevant solutions.

Having attended several high school meetings, it’s been communicated that the Nantucket Public School system is overwhelmed with behavioral health issues they are seeing in our island youth, post-pandemic. Our community providers are seeing the highest demand ever in mental health services for island youth. Now the Nantucket Public School System is working to meet this emerging vaping crisis with our youth, yet they do not own this problem alone. How do we support them at this time?

Lastly, I feel it important to highlight the CRC’s closing statement in their letter because it is evocative of how and why we can stay paralyzed in the face of change, and accept status quo, even in a crisis.

“The town of Nantucket Select Board, Town Manager, Finance Director, Finance Committee, Human Services department and taxpayers are not waiting or gambling with the island youth but investing in Human services providers who specialize in these sectors”

The use and enumeration of “authority figures” in conjunction with firm assertion (“are not waiting or gambling”) is problematic.

This kind of rhetoric can feel like tactic of intimidation, endemic to Generational Systemic Dysfunction, which seeks to oppress, invalidate and shut down those who dare speak up or question a system. This is common in all forms of systems, be it a family system, the system of a work environment, or in this case, our town system.

Generational Systemic Dysfunction perpetuates stigma and fear around hard conversations, especially those touching on dysfunctional behaviors, addiction, and mental health. The mantra in dysfunctional systems is "We don't talk about hard things. We work hard to make things look good on the outside.”

Perhaps a more collaborative approach would have been for the CRC’s letter to express clear concern and offer solutions in the face of this emerging crisis, instead of listing accomplishments? Perhaps we can all be open to the possibility that we can do better than what’s currently available in our community?

A parent said it well in Thursday night's Nantucket High School Principal Coffee, led by Principal Mandy Vasil and Assistant Principal Jennifer Psaradelis - who are truly showing valor and stamina right now. They eloquently expressed "We now find ourselves running after a runaway train, attempting to catch it from the caboose. It’s just not possible."

PREVENTION and targeted education are the key; we must get ahead of problems. We have an opportunity - parents, community members, island stakeholders, private businesses, the Town, and its many public servants - to come together and generate solutions.

Candice Tétrault

P.S. Please note The Nantucket Behavioral Advisory Group is no longer a task force.

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