April 20th (4/20) has become an unofficial holiday in cannabis culture – but a coalition in Westchester, NY is out to change that by declaring 4/20 as Healthy Teen Brain Day.
“Our marijuana use rates were stubbornly high,” said Patricia Tomassi, Director of the Westchester Coalition for Drug and Alcohol Free Youth. “New York as a state recently approved marijuana for medicinal purposes. We were, therefore, concerned that use rates would continue to increase. Through conversations with parents and youth, it seemed that the image of brain health resonated the most in terms of a prevention message.”
The Westchester County for Drug and Alcohol Free Youth coalition serves Westchester, NY, located just north of New York City. The county covers an area of 450 square miles, 43 municipalities and approximately 950,000 people. The coalition is unique because it serves the entire County of Westchester with 12 sector representation from countywide organizations.
Through the collaboration between local coalitions, the municipal governments declared April 20th as Healthy Teen Brain Day. First, the coalition held a rally on the steps of the local County Center with youth speakers. The coalition hosted a news conference and highlighted all of the municipal proclamations.
This past year, the coalition continued the theme of brain health and partnered with the local Westchester County Children’s Hospital – the centerpiece of the event: the Mega Brain. The exhibit consists of a giant walk-through brain that highlights how various issues can affect the brain. The coalition and collaborated with the Mega Brain company to personalize the brain. They created a scavenger hunt for participants to learn about the impact of marijuana. Prizes for completing the scavenger hunt were little golden stress balls.
At the event, the teens joined with hospital and government officials to speak about the importance of keeping the brain healthy by making choices not to use drugs, in particular but not limited to marijuana. The event, and the work of the coalition, were featured on the Westchester County website and the coalition received a spike in social media activity following the event.
In the last youth survey analysis, local past 30-day marijuana use declined when compared to survey data from two years previous; 8th grade use declined 25 percent, 10th grade use declined 3 percent and 12th grade use declined 5 percent.
Tomassi advises fellow coalitions: “Find a theme that really strikes a chord in your community – brain health seemed to be a good choice for us. There is so much competition for news coverage. A visual like the Mega Brain can help you get your story covered.”