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Oct 16, 2019 9:38 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Anti-Drug Coalition D.U.N.E. Combats Vaping

Officer Kirwin speaking at the D.U.N.E meeting at the Westhampton Beach High School. COURTESY OF DEBRA HULSE
Oct 16, 2019 12:10 PM

The anti-drug coalition Drug Use Never Empowers, or D.U.N.E., has had a presence in Westhampton Beach for the past two years. It’s made up of a wide variety of community members, including concerned parents, police officials and Westhampton Beach School District staff.

The group’s temporary executive officers — Debra Hulse, Jennifer Andreopoulos, Dawn Murphy, Danielle Carter, Ruth Moloney and Angela O’Neill — are all in agreement that their ultimate responsibility is to be focused on, and driven by, facts and science, not rumor. The goal is to keep kids in the school district off drugs and healthy.

In addition to substance abuse, which will be the focus of the first of a three-part series of public educational presentations kicking off next month, the group also plans to address student vaping, which will be the focus of the second presentation, and anxiety and depression, which will be the topic of the third presentation.

The initial presentation will take place on November 19, at 7 p.m., at the high school auditorium, and will focus on substance abuse. The speaker will be Anthony Ferrandino, a licensed clinical social worker and credentialed alcohol and substance abuse counselor.

Part two will take place in the second week of January and will focus on vaping.

“The kids don’t see it [vaping] as dangerous — they think of it as clean, unlike cigarettes, which are seen as being dirty,” said Ms. Carter.

The third meeting, about anxiety and depression and will be in February. All meetings will take place in the district auditorium, but dates and times have not been finalized.

“We have to educate ourselves. It’s truly a community effort, and the school has been incredibly supportive,” said Ms. Hulse. “We had our first meeting in October 2017, with maybe 10 or 13 members — now we have 130 members.”

D.U.N.E. works to bring everyone in the Westhampton Beach community together to educate both parents and students about the facts of drug abuse. Its mission is to “engage the community to reduce and prevent alcohol and other substance use by our youth, and to encourage healthy alternative choices.”

“Today’s environment is stressful. Everyone is busy and distracted,” said Ms. Murphy. “We want to teach how to deal with stress in a healthy way. The old-school thing isn’t effective — kids are always impervious, they think it’s never going to happen to them. The problem is, how do we get a kid off a severe nicotine addiction?”

If high school and some middle school students are facing addiction already, when is the proper time to begin education about drug use? “It should all begin in elementary school,” explained Ms. Andreopoulos. “In the early grades, we should focus on healthy choices and promoting a healthy lifestyle — and, in third or fourth grade, slowly introduce the conversation about alcohol.”

The D.U.N.E. executive officers said they first noticed kids beginning to vape in 2015 or 2016, and it really took off the year after.

Westhampton Beach High School Principal Christopher Herr agrees that it was, at one point, a very serious issue.

“Two years ago, we saw a rise in vaping in school. We pushed to inform students within the health curriculum, and we also had assemblies and enforced our disciplinary code,” Mr. Herr said. “Fortunately, with the support of the community, last year we saw a dramatic decrease in vaping. We had a very positive start to this school year as well.”

Last year, D.U.N.E. hosted a four-part series of assemblies on various topics, where parents could chose two to go to. It received positive reviews and the community waited to see what would come next, the board members said.

“We’re about providing information, never judging,” said Ms. Andreopoulos.

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