EAST GREENWICH — Bob Houghtaling, the director of the East Greenwich Drug Program, released last Friday an official report detailing the total number of individuals that were seen regarding both substance abuse and mental health issues over the course of the last 12 months.
The information, dated as of June 30, in the report shows that 202 total clients went through the Drug
Program this past year – 100 of them under the age of 21 – and compares what occurred within the 2013 fiscal year to a three-year average dating back to 2011.
“We identify problems early and we connect people to services early,” Houghtaling said. “So as far as clients are concerned, one of the things that I’m really glad about what we do is we have a good system in place to identify and support individuals with problems.”
One statistic that has been on the decline over the last three years is the number of clients seen for alcohol, a number that Houghtaling is pleased to see. In 2011, a total of 39 clients under the age of 18, or 41 percent, went through the program for alcohol-related issues. This past year, 30 clients, or 30 percent, were treated for alcohol issues in the program.
Overall, the combined percentage of total clients being seen for drugs and alcohol in 2013 has dropped slightly to 43 percent, as opposed to the 47 percent that were seen in 2011 and the three-year average of 45 percent.
However, one number that has been trending upward is the number of referrals Houghtaling received for mental health issues. This past year, 21 percent – or 43 total people – have been addressed regarding mental health, or situations relating to mental health. Of those 43 people, 32 of them are under the age of 18, which is 10 more referrals for underage clients than there were just two years ago.
But Houghtaling looks at that number in a positive way in the sense that mental health-related concerns are being brought to the forefront. He said some factors that could’ve contributed to those rising numbers are stress or psychiatric disorders. He also believes that the mental health dynamics for some could translate into substance abuse problems, but those factors, Houghtaling said, have not been identified yet.
Houghtaling added that the neuro-psych assessments have also risen dramatically, from a total of five last year to 25 this past year, another contributing factor in residents taking note of mental health concerns.
One combining percentage that Houghtaling is very pleased to see is with parents and self-referrals, people recognizing the problems they may have before their respective situations spiral out of control. In 2013, a combined total of 103 people, or 51 percent, have either been referred to counseling by their parents or have admitted on their own that they have a problem.
“They’re doing it from a proactive standpoint and saying ‘I need to do this before the next step happens,’” Houghtaling said. “That also speaks well with them and with the community for having something available to them.”
Going forward, Houghtaling says there are about four things he wants to remain vigilant on, one is being proactive in addressing issues before they occur – which has been the case considering the amount of parent intervention and self-referrals that happened this year. He would also like to continue working on addressing situations that fall under the social host law with more emphasis.
“Kids are always at risk,” Houghtaling said. “Part of growing up is taking a risk here and there. There are always things that pop up.”
Houghtaling added that prescription drug abuse is still an issue within East Greenwich, with 22 percent of the total drug referrals were related to substance abuse with over-the-counter medications. To try to counter that trend, the drug report states that the Town has partnered with the University of Rhode Island’s School of Pharmacy to offer a number of educational endeavors, such as “Pharm A.I.D.,” and this year’s Youth-to-Youth Conference will be held at URI, with special support from the School of Pharmacy.