Alcohol, marijuana use top concern for YouthZone leader |

Alcohol, marijuana use top concern for YouthZone leader

Jami Hayes.
YouthZone/Courtesy photo

Substance use and abuse remain a “primary need and growing concern” for kids and families in the region, according to YouthZone Executive Director Jami Hayes, who updated Snowmass Village town leaders this week on the non-profit’s top concerns in the new year.

“The primary reasons for our referrals … are the possession of alcohol and the possession of marijuana, followed by vaping,” she said during the Town of Snowmass Village Council’s regular meeting held Monday, Jan. 9.

Substance possession and use are the main reason youth are referred to the Glenwood Springs-based non-profit from the court system, which accounts for the majority of their referrals. Hayes said that 27% of their referrals come “pre-ticket,” and YouthZone tries to engage these kids and families with preventative services before they are cited for any law violations.

In order to address substance-use issues throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, YouthZone is focusing on eliminating the barriers preventing children from getting the help they need.

“We find that eliminating cost is one of our biggest goals,” Hayes said. “We have a lot of supporters. … It’s a really important goal for us.”

In addition to eliminating the cost barrier, YouthZone is working to ease the challenges of transportation and is offering interpretation services for children and families.

Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk said that, before the pandemic hit in March 2020, the council heard multiple presentations on vaping. She asked if vaping rates remained as prevalent.

“It’s really high,” Hayes said, noting that marijuana cases are one of their top categories of drug referrals, and cases involving marijuana vaping are part of that group.

“Our referrals are so intense and so high with alcohol and the possession of marijuana vape pens that we really have to intensify our substance focus there,” she said. “Vaping nicotine — we don’t necessarily de-prioritize that, but we do ask for families to visit their family doctor and get some support from their schools first. Schools often have a primary level of substance intervention that includes education around nicotine.”

Numbers for possession of alcohol and marijuana were just as high before the pandemic as they are now, she said.

“We had a really big spike right during and right after COVID. The landscape of what we’re seeing is the same; it’s just a little bit more,” Hayes said.

Madsen asked whether a child’s involvement with alcohol, marijuana, and vaping begets bigger crimes as well, to which Hayes said, “They are almost always connected.”

In Pitkin County, YouthZone serves 174 youth each year, according to the non-profit. They also impact 853 individuals each year, which includes through parent education and substance classes for the communities. YouthZone works with children ages 10-18.

It serves communities from Parachute to Aspen and has satellite offices in the primary communities they serve. The closest offices to Snowmass are at the Pitkin County Courthouse and Hope Center in Basalt. The Town Council has approved grant funding for YouthZone since 2005.

Hayes said there are very few Snowmass residents they serve because most offenses committed in Snowmass are by non-village residents.

“I think the most important thing is the impact you’re having on youth and keeping them out of the system,” said Madsen. “Restorative justice is really the way to do it. Once kids end up in the system, it’s tough for them to break out of it.”