On Friday, teenagers from the Colorado Youth Advisory Council offered several new state policies, including suggestions to better address substance abuse, eating disorders and HIV in schools.
The council presented state lawmakers with seven policy recommendations, one of which aims to reform the way schools intervene and respond to substance abuse among students. Colorado is the 7th most prevalent state for substance abuse in the nation, according to a 2022 study studyand substance abuse among young people is more common here than the national average.
“As a young person going to public school, every day I see and hear first hand the impact of substance abuse on our young people,” Sidd Nareddy, 15, of Broomfield, told members of an interim committee. “The stark reality is that substance abuse has almost become the norm among Colorado’s youth.”
Nareddy said that’s partly because schools in Colorado don’t have adequate substance abuse programs, with current programs focusing on prevention rather than intervention. Additionally, the Colorado Crisis Services hotline that serves students struggling with substance abuse is overwhelmed, seeing a 55% increase in calls during the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in average wait times nearly tripling and call abandonment rates increasing by 329%, Nareddy said. .
The council’s proposal would conduct a needs assessment to assess how Colorado high schools deal with substance abuse, implement a high school substance use screening program and increase funding for Colorado Crisis Services.
Aimee Resnick, a recent high school graduate at Centennial, said she battled an eating disorder herself, culminating in her hospitalization in 2020, weighing just 95 pounds.
Resnick remembers being bullied because of her weight in fifth grade, but said her eating disorder started the summer after freshman year of high school, when she took a health class in which students had to track the calories they ate in a week and create a weight loss goal.
“Even though I already had the mindset and habits that were forming before that, that’s what really sparked its development into a full-fledged problem,” Resnick said. “I’m proud to say that now I’m on the mend, but what’s really hard about an eating disorder is that it never really goes away.”
This proposal would form a committee to review and revise state health and physical education classroom standards to promote a healthy body image and reduce the impact of eating disorders. It would also expand state definitions of bullying and discrimination to include weight and create the Office of Eating Disorder Prevention to research eating disorders and their effects in Colorado.
The third proposal aims to increase HIV education and awareness among adolescents. With the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s fading from public consciousness, many young people today are unaware of how the disease is transmitted and prevented, said Denver high school student Skye O’Toole. Among Generation Z, 41% said they were not at all or only somewhat informed about HIV, according to a 2019 study investigationcompared to 23% of Millennials.
“Although HIV/AIDS is no longer as compelling as it was in the 1980s, it is still present,” O’Toole said. “Most young people don’t know about HIV and don’t know how to prevent it. It prevents young people from taking HIV medication, from getting HIV treatment when they need it.
The proposal would require school health classes to provide HIV education, including information about drugs that reduce the risk of contracting HIV and how to access drugs in Colorado.
In addition, the proposal would fund a youth-led education initiative on HIV and HIV prevention medication, fund clinics for young people to provide HIV testing and prevention medication, and remove part state law that requires doctors to encourage young people receiving HIV. tests to tell their parents. Supporters said they wanted to prevent LGBTQ teens from being coerced into coming out to parents who may not accept them.
The remaining four proposals involved strategies to reduce inequities in school disciplinary action, increase the number of students seeking financial aid for higher education, increase the number of licensed psychologists in schools, and establish the participation of young people in committees responsible for updating educational standards.
The Colorado Youth Advisory Council will meet with the interim committee again on August 19 to request that six of their proposals be drafted into bills. On September 30, the committee will vote on the three bills to move forward at a meeting of the Legislative Council on October 4, which will determine whether the bills will go to the General Assembly, which will meet again in January from next year.