Earlier this month, the Maine Legislative Information Office released the list of bill titles the Legislative Council will be considering for the upcoming short session. In all, there are 38 pages of bill proposals. This is a big event in my world as a substance abuse prevention professional, as without fail, there are always many bill proposals that impact substance abuse in some way. In my review of these bill titles, one jumps out at me right away that would eliminate an important tool in our substance abuse prevention efforts. That bill request is LR 2314 An Act to Terminate Administration of the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey.
The Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey (or MIYHS) is a survey administered in Maine’s public high schools and middles schools every two years. The survey asks questions in a variety of health topics including nutrition, physical activity, social and emotional wellness, and tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs. It was most recently administered this past February and the results are expected to be released later this fall. Reports for 2013, 2011, and 2009 can all be located at the State’s MIYHS website. The website contains data at the state, public health district, and county level. Individual school systems receive password access to reports at the school district level. Additionally, staff at the Maine Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services have been producing some technical reports that delve deeper into the data and look at associations between risky behaviors and academics.
The MIYHS is a crucial public health surveillance tool for monitoring the well-being of Maine’s youth. It is thanks to the MIYHS we are able to see that we are making inroads in reducing the prevalence of tobacco use amongst youth. Conversely, it is also where we can monitor the troubling trend of a dramatically increasing percentage of Maine’s youth who believe there is no risk from regular marijuana use. Without this data, communities would not have the information they need to make data-driven decisions on the programs and initiatives needed to address their population-level, physical and behavioral health issues.
Until my recent job change, I directed the Drug Free Communities (DFC) coalition for Androscoggin County. To secure the federal funding for the DFC program, we needed to complete a community assessment that laid out the youth substance abuse issues we wanted to target. The data from the MIYHS was the backbone of that assessment. This is the case for the 18 other DFC coalitions throughout the state, along with the 27 Healthy Maine Partnerships working to address tobacco, nutrition, and obesity. Without this data, our public health infrastructure would basically be flying blind and that will make the system much lest efficient and effective. That puts communities and youth at risk.
Finally, within the context of Maine rolling up its sleeves to address the substance abuse crisis in the state, we need all of the information we can get. This is the wrong time to be taking away important tools out of our substance abuse tool box. As with anything else, there are always improvements that can be made to the MIYHS and the state should continuously examine how the system of administration and reporting can become more efficient. In the end, we need this data, now more than ever. For the health of our youth and communities, the Legislative Council must not allow this bill request to go forward.