Island Wide Youth Collaborative takes a preventive stance on substance abuse

Dr. Heather Forkey will lead a talk on child trauma and addiction. —MVTimes file photo

The Island Wide Youth Collaborative (IWYC) is addressing the escalating concern about substance abuse and other risky behavior among the Island’s young people with a focus on education and awareness-building.

On Thursday, Feb. 16, the IWYC will host a forum at the Edgartown School. IWYC program director Susan Mercier believes the forum will be of interest to everyone: teens, parents, educators, and other community members whose lives are touched by substance abuse. The talk is titled “Child Trauma and Addiction: Connecting the ‘Dots’ and Finding the ‘Fix.’” The main speaker is Dr. Heather Forkey, of UMass Memorial Children’s Medical Center and UMass Medical School.

“The spin on the talk is not clinical,” Ms. Mercier said. “She’ll be talking about everyday issues in a very accessible way.”

Last fall, IWYC hosted Dr. Forkey for a more targeted audience. The pediatrician, professor, author, and longtime advocate for children spoke to clinicians and educators in a focused, science-based lecture. The upcoming forum is geared more toward the general public.

“She’s done a lot of work with foster children,” Ms. Mercier said of Dr. Forkey. “She knows a lot about trauma, specifically in children.” Dr. Forkey has done a great deal of clinical work with children exposed to abuse, neglect, foster care, and trauma.

“When we started talking with people who are working in the area of substance abuse, we found that trauma kept coming up,” Ms. Mercier said. “People exposed to trauma at a younger age have a higher chance of getting addicted. Substance abuse is our major public health concern at this time.”

Addiction is not the only potential danger associated with childhood trauma. Ms. Mercier points to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which concluded, “Childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity. Adverse childhood experiences have been linked to risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, low life potential, and early death.”

“It’s a fascinating topic,” Ms. Mercier said. “It will be a real everyman kind of talk. There are aspects of trauma that most people are unaware of. We want members of the community to have a better understanding of what people with the disease of addiction are going through. Knowledge is power. We need to have compassion now more than ever.”

On March 23, IWYC and Youth Task Force will keep the conversation going by hosting a talk with Dr. Ruth Potee, called “Parenting to Prevent: The Effects of Substances on the Developing Adolescent Brain.” The public talk will be followed by presentations for all students in grades 7 to 12. Dr. Potee is an expert in the area of opiate addiction and a much-sought-after speaker.

“She’s amazing; she’ll offer concrete information about talking to your kids,” said Ms. Mercier, who saw Dr. Potee speak in Hyannis last fall.

Dr. Potee has a popular series of talks on addiction that can be found on YouYube and Vimeo.

Other outreach initiatives launched by IWYC include educational programs for clinicians and at-risk teens. Currently, the collaborative is hosting a 28-week online certificate course in Traumatic Studies offered through the Trauma Center at JRI for clinicians from MVCS and private practices.Raising the clinical acumen drastically provides a better network of care for everyone on the Island,” Ms. Mercier said.

In order to reach out to adolescents, IWYC has established a program called “Pathfinders,” which is designed to “increase the participants’ knowledge and understanding of the impact of substance use in their lives, and expose them to alternatives to using drugs and alcohol.”

“It offers a safe and confidential space where young people can come together and learn and speak openly about their experiences and concerns,” Ms. Mercier said. The Pathfinders program is open to all teens, including Charter School and home-schooled kids.

Recently, IWYC has integrated groups for young adults into its programming. One of the latest projects is a program for 18- to 26-year-olds, a biweekly upcycled-art group which will involve writing, drawing, collaging, and dinner. Ms. Mercier believes that this age group often falls through the cracks.

The IWYC was launched in 2013 as a means of addressing a growing problem on the Island. “Obviously substance abuse is a national epidemic, and of particular concern in the state and on a local level,” Ms. Mercier said. “Much of our programming focuses on a prevention point of view. That’s the type of programming that people are asking for, and where we see ourselves being able to address the community as a whole.”

Child Trauma and Addiction, a talk with Dr. Heather Forkey and her UMass colleagues, Thursday, Feb. 16 from 6-8 pm. Edgartown School 2nd floor library. All are welcome.

The next Upcycled Art Group for ages 18-26 will meet on Wednesday, Feb. 22 from 6-7:30 pm at the Island Wide Youth Collaborative building on the MV Community Services campus. Free. Pre-registration encouraged. For more information, visit