Youth Conference Teaches Students Sober Activities, Leadership Skills

By Victoria Kim 04/05/17

The middle schoolers learned about the consequences of drug use and strategies to handle peer pressure at the conference. 

You Lead Youth Conference in Greenfield, Massachusetts.
You Lead Youth Conference in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Photo via YouTube

Last Wednesday, over 100 middle schoolers gathered at a youth conference in Greenfield, Massachusetts where they were taught leadership and decision-making skills to help empower them to stay drug-free, and to help their peers do the same.

Early intervention was one of the key goals behind the 5th annual You Lead Youth Conference. “It’s never too early to give good messages to kids,” said Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan, whose office helped organize the event. “It really starts in middle school.”

More than 120 students from 13 middle schools attended the conference held at Greenfield Community College. The activities, workshops and performances aimed to give them a space to network and learn problem solving and communication skills.

“At the middle school level you’re more aware of all the pressures and outside stresses,” Ashley Fitzroy, a teacher and advisor at Greenfield Middle School, told the Daily Hampshire Gazette. “It’s empowering for them to hear that they can be agents of change.”

The students themselves recognize the need for such programs, especially in places like Massachusetts, where almost 1,500 deaths were caused by opioids last year—which include heroin and prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin.

According to the Boston Globe, about three-quarters of the opioid-related deaths involved fentanyl, the synthetic opioid that’s said to be 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin. 

The DEA has acknowledged fentanyl’s growing presence in “bad” batches of heroin being sold on the street, and blames China and Mexico for supplying it to people in the U.S. 

Authorities say many drug users who overdose on heroin aren’t aware that fentanyl was mixed into the batch, which sellers reportedly do to make the drug more potent.

Events like the youth conference are good for young people, said Aiden Fulton, a seventh grader at Greenfield Middle School. “Especially in our town there’s a lot of heroin usage,” he told the Gazette.

But though Fulton said the youth conference and drug-free initiatives are positive steps, adults may not want to harp on about the issue. “I don’t know if over-talking about it would be good. But once in a while is good,” he said.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr