Ela Coalition, Lake County health department continue fight against substance abuse
Erin Lakomski, a community health specialist with the Lake County Health Department, helps run youth programs designed to curb substance abuse among teens. | Photo courtesy Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center
LAKE ZURICH — In memory of three young Lake County residents who died from heroin overdoses, a group of local volunteers continues to press forward in the fight against substance abuse.
Formed in 2010, the Ela Coalition Against Youth Substance Abuse provides community educational opportunities with the hope of stemming drug and alcohol use among teens.
“There were kids that were using, and when they got older, they were doing heroin,” said Susan Fackler, a social worker at Ela Township. “We want to support kids in making safe, healthy choices.”
Although the coalition aims to address all types of substance use, Fackler said much of the group’s focus is on alcohol and marijuana because those are most commonly used by teens.
“We’re trying to create awareness and provide educational opportunities,” Fackler explained.
The Lake County Health Department, which participates in the biennial Illinois Youth Survey of middle and high school students, also focuses much of its drug prevention efforts on alcohol, marijuana and tobacco.
Erin Lakomski, a community health specialist with the Lake County Health Department, explained that its emphasis is placed on the substances that are most easily accessible to young people.
“Students generally list that it’s fairly easy to get alcohol,” said Lakomski, adding that the responses proved similar for the accessibility to marijuana and cigarettes.
Referencing the results of the 2012 survey, which was taken in the spring by sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students across Lake County, the county health department reported that there has been an increase in alcohol use among 10th graders, from 28 to 30 percent. The percentage of 12th graders who drink alcohol held steady at 49 percent, according to the survey results.
“It showed a slight increase in some categories and a decrease in others,” Lakomski said of the 2012 survey.
Cigarette use among high school seniors was found to be at 12 percent and sophomores at 7 percent. Cigarette use among middle school students held steady at 1 percent.
Lakomski said although drinking remains an issue among Lake County youth, the latest survey results showed a decrease in binge drinking among 10th- and 12th-grade students. The survey defines binge drinking as having five or more alcoholic drinks in a row within two weeks.
“We do see there’s some things going in a positive direction, but we also see we have work to do,” said Lakomski.
Fackler noted that the Ela Coalition has an alcohol and a marijuana committee. Both try to encourage parents in the area to open dialogue with their children about substance abuse.
“We all work together to see what we can do,” Fackler said.